BFI London Film Festival: Bleed For This

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Bleed For This
Directed by Ben Younger
Starring Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart and Ciarán Hinds
Watch on iTunes or Amazon

by Amanda Farley

Bleed for This is writer-director Ben Younger’s biopic of ‘The Pazmanian Devil’ boxing legend Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), a Rhode Island fighter whose refusal to be beaten by anything has made him a living legend.

The film kicks off in 1988 when Vinny is at a low point in his career. After losing a major match his manager, in a cruel betrayal, suggests to the press his career is over. Instead, with the help of a new coach Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), Vinny reinvents himself, moving up two weight classes. This new partnership looks unstoppable until a tragic car crash leaves Vinny fighting for his life and career.

If boxing is as much about being able to take a punch as give one Vinny Pazienza is the ultimate boxing hero.  After breaking his neck in two places doctors feared he would never walk again. His career seemed assigned to the scrap heap, except Pazienza wasn’t willing to throw in the towel.  Opting to wear a Halo brace for six months he defied medical advice and expectation and returned to the ring to reclaim his place as a world champion.

At its best, this film captures the jostling movement and ego of the boxing world with great skill. Vinny’s home life feels alive and vibrant. His father’s bravado and mother’s unwavering devotion are beautifully captured. Career crippling scenes with Vinny and his management are set against the backdrop of a child’s bedroom and the film ends with clips of the real people involved, who are more exaggerated and brilliant than their film counterpoints could ever hope to be.

Cast as the unstoppable force of nature Pazienza, Teller brings an energy to the screen that transforms him into a near perfect copy of the man himself (albeit a better looking Hollywood version). While perhaps not in the same league as his earlier performances, this is still an interesting moment for Teller. His on-screen dynamic with Eckhart is obvious and the physical demands of the role show Teller’s dedication to his craft.

However, it is Eckhart who really comes to life as the drink defeated Rooney.  He manages to bring a depth and gravity to the character that is sadly lacking in the rest of the film. His scenes with Pazienza’s dad, Angelo (Ciarán Hinds), are held together by Eckhart’s performance. Their shifting parental power dynamic is Younger’s only attempt at a loose story narrative. This misguided choice by Younger is obvious in the overall impact of the film.

He doesn’t create anything fresh. Instead there’s a stock footage feel to this feature that makes the whole experience underwhelming. Clichéd training montages and the failure to explore the darker side of Pazienza’s reality make this a hollow experience. Perhaps it’s because the film’s subject is still very much alive or because Younger felt overshadowed by the cannon of great boxing films, but somewhere in the retelling he lost his way. He didn’t dig deep enough to find the grit and heart needed to truly bring the Pazienza story to life. One can’t help but feel that Bleed For This will fail to make a lasting cinematic mark, unlike Pazienza whose legendary status is guaranteed.

 

 

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