Never say never. Even when you probably should.
Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza (Miles Teller) is a local Providence boxer who shoots to stardom after winning two world title fights. He’s also got a bit of a brash, cocky attitude that ticks off everyone of his opponents, as well as makes him a fan-favorite for boxing and sports fans alike. He’s got so much potential to do great things with his boxing-career and he’s trained so hard for it all, that no matter what happens to him, he’s not going to let it slip away. Especially not even a near-fatal car accident that leaves him with a broken neck and ideas that he may not ever walk again. Rather than getting his spine worked on and giving him even better chances of walking again, Vinny decides to go with Halo surgery, that leaves him with this crazy box strapped to his head and shoulders. Why? Because Vinny believes that he’s still got what it takes to get back in the ring and defend his title. However, time starts to roll on and eventually, Vinny gives up, believing that there’s no reason to try anymore. That is, until he starts lifting and training again, even with the harness on his body. This is when his trainer, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), decides to come back to Vinny and mount their comeback, even if absolutely no one believes that it can, or better yet, should happen.
Bleed for This comes so very close to be the ugly stepchild of the Fighter, that it’s almost distracting. However, what works best about Bleed for This is that director Ben Younger does small, rather interesting things to not just play around with the formula and conventions of a boxing movie, but avoid similarities to far better ones, too. In the Fighter, the movie was much more concerned with the wacky, wild and over-the-top family surrounding the title character, than actually him, whereas the story behind Bleed for This, and the very true one at that, is actually about the fighter himself and barely anyone else.
Just the way a boxing flick should be told.
See, with Vinny Pazienza, though we don’t really get to know much about him in the first act, other than that he’s a bit of a hot-shot and show-boat, the movie still makes up for all of that in showing us just the kind of person he truly is when faced with death-defying adversity. Once Vinny gets into the car-accident, it would have been incredibly easy and also, boring, for Bleed for This to become a run-of-the-mill redemption tale, played to hokey music and even hokier lines like “never give up, kid”, or “never give up”, or something along those lines, but Younger is a much smarter director than that. If anything, Younger knows how to avoid all of those age old cliches of what we expect from the boxing movie and find a way to not necessarily forget about them, but just not really embrace them much, either; he puts less of an emphasis on the fact that Vinny truly is an underdog and more of on the fact that this really happened and well, whether or not we know how the story actually ends, it’s quite a journey to watch.
It also helps that there’s a great deal of fun and lively energy to Bleed for This throughout the whole two hours. Whereas with Younger’s debut, Boiler Room, it sort of felt like all of the fun and wild energy was there, but soon, began to dissipate once a real, actual story started weaving its way into the main-frame, Bleed for This instead takes the story and runs rampant with it; none of what we’re really seeing is fresh or original, but it almost doesn’t matter. So what if everyone surrounding Vinny, including Vinny himself, all speak in ridiculous Boston-like accents? So what if Vinny works out and trains to AC/DC? So what if Vinny’s sisters all look and act tacky? So what if Vinny’s dads a little bit of a dead-beat and only cares about making money? So what Vinny’s trainer, Kevin Rooney, is an alcoholic, who has seen far better years as Tyson’s trainer?
So what to all of this formulaic junk? Because really, the movie’s best and at its brightest when it doesn’t care about playing by any certain rules and just telling its scrappy, underdog tale, the way it wants to. Does it get wrapped-up in the usual issues that most sports movies do? Of course it does, but it does such a good job of telling its story in an exciting manner, that it hardly matters because it’s barely even noticeable.
The more sports movies that follow this path, I’m telling you, the better.
It should also go without saying that Bleed for This is helped out incredibly by the cast involved, most in particular, Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart, in one of the best performances I’ve seen either give in quite some time. Teller’s brash, cocky attitude that may be all too real, works well for someone like Vinny, who may not be as much of a d-bag, as much of a tool who loves his body and loves how he can beat people up. In that sense, Teller’s perfect for the role, but also works in other instances when we see Vinny’s true colors and realize that, above all else, he’s still kind of a kid who just wants to put on his gloves and fight.
And come to think of it, aren’t we all like that a little bit?
With this and Sully, it finally seems like Aaron Eckhart is back on the right track to reminding us all why he’s such a talent not to be wasted on crap like I, Frankenstein, or Battle: Los Angeles (seriously, Aaron, what the hell, man?). Regardless, Eckhart’s great as Kevin Rooney, working with an almost laughably cartoonish Boston-accent that works hand-in-hand with his bald head and ever-expanding beer-gut. Is it the kind of showy role that most actors roll with when they’re looking desperately for Oscar attention? Pretty much, but Eckhart is so good here, it hardly matters. You see a certain love, friendship and understanding between him and Vinny that grows over time, making it not only seem like the two understand each other, but possibly even need each other, too. It’s basically a bromance, without all of the excessive hugging and kissing.
You know, typical bro stuff.
Consensus: Even with all the conventions of a boxing movie standing in its way, Bleed for This gets by on heart, good performances, and a great deal of energy that buffs formula in small, but smart ways.
8 / 10