Bleed For This, from writer-director Ben Younger, is yet another in a long line of recently released boxing films. Based on the real-life story of Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza, Bleed For This is unfortunately unable to stray from the familiar trappings found in countless boxing films before it. However, it is still successful in many aspects — most notably the dedicated lead performance from Miles Teller and Larkin Seiple’s excellent cinematography — even if it’s never allowed to reach its full potential due to middling fight editing and choreography.
Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller) isn’t soft spoken or humble, and he’s definitely not a Rocky type. Instead, he’s a loudmouth, frequents strip-clubs, and has a gambling addiction. But he’s also freakishly dedicated, and an impressive boxer to boot. Bleed For This moves through the motions in its first 45 minutes, still being entirely enjoyable as Younger shows off the aforementioned traits of Pazienza through a couple of his most pivotal matches.
The downside, however, is that it all feels too comfortable in the beginning; these are scenes and character archetypes that we’ve all seen before. But then we’re thrown a curveball when Pazienza is involved in a horrific car accident that breaks his neck.
It’s in the film’s second act that it truly shines as we watch a crippled Pazienza deal with the implications that he may never get to fight again. Initially following the accident, Pazienza withers away in bed day after day. He now wears the monstrosity that is a halo, a brace that’s literally screwed into his skull meant to keep his head and neck in place so that he doesn’t completely sever his cervical spine.
But don’t forget, this is still a boxing film. With the help of his new trainer, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), Pazienza begins training again with hopes of continuing his recently blossoming career. Bleed For This wears its countless clichés on its sleeve, never straying too far from the screenplay archetype you’d likely find in a “Boxing Screenwriting For Dummies” book as Younger adds in the routine training montages and ringside pep talks. Still, it’s easy to look past the film’s many tropes as it enjoyably breezes through to its climactic finale.
Miles Teller, one of the most committed and impressive young actors working today, delivers a remarkable performance as Pazienza, easily standing out as the film’s top asset. Pazienza himself is sleazy enough for you to question his intentions and lifestyle, yet remains charming and completely likable throughout. The washed-up boxing coach, Kevin Rooney, is similarly captivating to watch due to a capable performance from the always dependable Aaron Eckhart. Even better, the chemistry between the two is awesome to watch as each actor elevates the other to even greater heights.
As I noted at the top of this review, the fight scenes are where I was most unimpressed with Bleed For This. The three fights highlighted over the course of the film are marred with inconsistent editing, and the pacing of each feels off. None of the fights are really allowed the time to effectively build the right amount of tension before their ringing of the final bell. And in some instances, it was unclear which fighter was punching which due to close-up shots. Perhaps I’m just spoiled after last year’s excellent Creed featured some of the most lifelike and graphic fake boxing ever put to film, but the fights here left me unsatisfied.
Bleed For This isn’t the most original film you’ll see this year, but that’s okay. Ben Younger is still able to create a biographical drama worth seeing, portraying a truly inspirational story of boxing’s “greatest comeback of all time,” all the while enthusiastically embracing the clichés that every boxing film has been built on since the original Rocky came out 40 years ago.
This is no Rocky, nor Creed, but Bleed For This is amiable. Sometimes, that’s good enough.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor