Boxing films, it appears, are like buses; you wait ages for one and then a few come along at once. We had the recent Rocky film, Creed and we’ve also had Southpaw with Jake Gyllenhaal. Now we have Bleed For This about, what is dubbed, the greatest boxing comeback ever seen.
Bleed For This is based on the true story of Vinny Pazienza. In 1991, after moving to the junior middleweight class, Pazienza became the USBA Championship. He then had a shot at the WBA Junior Middleweight Champion Gilbert Dele whom he defeated on TKO after the full 12-rounds. Shortly after winning the title, Pazienza was involved in a serious car accident (where the movie plays with reality a little).
The doctors told Vinny he may never walk again, let alone fight. He was fitted with a Halo, a metal torture-looking device that screws into your skull, for 6-months (apparently only three in actuality). During this time he was told to rest and that any jolts could do more damage. Defying the doctors, and the odds, Vinny continued training and thirteen months after the car accident he fought again in a ten-round bout in what many consider the greatest comeback in boxing history.
Whilst the core of the story is inspirational I’m afraid the film doesn’t quite manage to pull it off. The fight scenes are pretty standard, nothing like we saw in Southpaw and the story seems a little disjointed. Pazienza’s trainer, Kevin Rooney – played by a shaven-headed Aaron Eckhart – is naturally shocked at finding that he is back training and doesn’t want anything to do with it. But then suddenly he does, and we’re not really given an explanation as to why.
Pazienza’s father on the other hand, played by Ciaran Hinds (Road to Perdition, There Will Be Blood), provides us with a very real explanation as to why he will no longer be in his corner after the accident. Whilst we obviously know what Pazienza did (he even recorded himself training whilst he was wearing his Halo), the whole reasoning around it is given a minute or three and brushed away as if to say ‘well of course he just got back on with it’. I think longer is given to showing the screws being taken out of his skull, which he did without any kind of anaesthetic!
Miles Teller (Whiplash, Fantastic Four) plays Pazienza and does a fine job. He’s not quite as raw as the real Pazienza, not quite as rough around the edges, but it’s a good performance. Ben Younger (Boiler Room) is the writer and director on the movie with Martin Scorsese (Silence) acting as executive producer. Younger doesn’t do anything that will blow your socks off, the car crash is well done, but otherwise it’s a solid, if unremarkable, performance.
Eckhart is good as the sometimes-drunk trainer though I always find his performances lack a little passion and intensity which, for me, is required in a film like this. Hinds is very good as Pazienza’s father though isn’t really given a chance to be the larger than life character he actually appears to be when you see him over the end credits.
Overall I was a little underwhelmed with Bleed For This. I wanted to like it, it had all the right ingredients, but something hasn’t clicked, that spark isn’t there. I wonder if the story, as remarkable as it seems when you say ‘guy breaks his neck in car accident, 13-months later he’s back professional boxing’, didn’t have enough around it to make into a feature length film. It’s almost as if the fact he just pretty much got on with, acted like nothing had happened, is to the films detriment.
Still, a remarkable man and a remarkable story. I’d have been happy reading about it though.