See This; Pazienza Biopic Worthy of a Title Belt
16 years ago, director Ben Younger gave us Boiler Room, retroactively known as known as the movie that introduced us to Vin Diesel and for making stock trading look cool long before The Wolf of Wall Street ever did.
Younger's newly released film, the boxing film Bleed For This, has ever-so-brief influences of Wolf flowing through it. Glimpses of the seemingly idyllic world that is championship boxing are seen throughout the film, as numerous times our subject, the retired boxer Vinny Pazienza (now legally known as Vinny Paz), indulges in the good times of casinos, strip clubs and womanizing.
But whereas Wolf and Raging Bull, both products of executive producer Martin Scorsese, has its dislikable characters inevitably corrupted by the faux paradise of their respective worlds, Bleed For This has its subject, the showboat with a heart of gold Pazienza, go through the depths of hell, and offers not just redemption for its protagonist, but the passion and heart that makes its viewer want to run through a brick wall.
In Bleed for This, Younger and star Miles Teller face a difficult challenge. For as much flak as the superhero movie genre gets for presenting us the same movie over and over again with a different coat of paint, the boxing film can be criticized for doing just the same. We get the fighter, meet him, meet those close to him. The fighter enjoys success, goes through difficulty, eventually redeems himself, rediscovers his success, boom...end credits.
Bleed for This abandons this philosophy, apparently backing itself into a corner...but, on the contrary, it allows the brilliance of the film to truly show itself.
Boxing films are judged and remembered for the sequences that show...actual boxing. With Bleed For This, it's the action that takes place out of the ring that makes the film truly shine, the drama, tension, and even comedy that give it the aforementioned heart and soul.
With Pazienza's horrific broken neck depicted in the film, one that sparked his epic comeback to boxing we're left with plenty of time spent outside of the ring, and Teller, along with co-star Aaron Eckhart, rises to the occasion. Teller, free from the shackles of failed blockbuster films like Fantastic Four and the Divergent franchise, shines in the lead role. We see the pain in his every move trapped in the "halo" device during Pazienza's rehabilitation, and his convincingness in Pazienza's determination and gung-ho attitude leave us no choice but to cheer when Pazienza makes the moves to defy all odds and restart his training when one false move could kill him. In addition, Teller's charisma allows us to forgive Pazienza's antics, whether they're part of his "tough guy" persona (exemplified when Pazienza insists on going into a medical procedure without anesthetic) or in his showboating persona (seen during the press conference sequences in the film).
Meanwhile, Eckhart portrays Kevin Rooney, the trainer who oversaw Pazienza's incredible comeback. Already having brilliantly played the ally to another inspiring true story subject in Clint Eastwood's Sully, Eckhart juggles many personas in the single character of Rooney, comic relief, functioning alcoholic, and voice of reason among them. The versatility in Eckhart makes the role work, and he serves as a brilliant number two to Teller.
Bleed for This isn't the number-one boxing film...some of the fighting sequences are far too shaky and several characters, including Pazienza's mother Louise (played by Sons of Anarchy's Katey Sagal) feel underdeveloped...but it still deserves a spot among the heavyweights of the genre. With its smaller budget and under the radar talent, it's almost easy for a gem like this to get lost in the cluttered holiday film scene of sequels and blockbuster. But it's worth a hit for sure...the rare type of film that knocks out the audience in a good way.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490
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