It’s easy to understand what drew the producers of Bleed for This to the material. Icon boxing trainer and analyst Teddy Atlas ranked the real-life comeback of fighter Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza, as the second greatest tale in the storied history of the sport. If the events depicted in the film hadn’t been based on true accounts they would’ve been deemed too hard to believe. The greatest strength of Bleed for This is in turning a story with obvious corny elements into a solidly entertaining bio-pic. Director Ben Younger returns from a decade long hiatus with his best film so far.
Providence pugilist Pazienza (Milles Teller), uses his non-stop aggressiveness to his advantage in the ring, becoming a world champion after jumping two weight classes. A drive to a local casino on a snowy afternoon turns into a harrowing ordeal after a near-fatal head-on collision leaves Vinny with a broken neck. The befuddled bruiser doesn’t quite understand the severity of his injuries, and must be put under constraints when he is told he may never walk again.
Outfitted with a Halo medical device to keep the neck aligned Pazienza quietly begins to lift weights in his basement. Against doctor’s orders and the advice of loved ones, Vinny convinces renowned trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) to aid in his plan to return to the ring just a year after the accident. The stage is set for one of the most miraculous sports comebacks of all-time.
Teller, building on his game-changing work in Whiplash, perfectly embodies Pazienza. The bravado in his posture, the arrogance of his Rhode Island speech pattern, and a haunting look of vulnerability when his future is threatened by that car accident, are all spot-on. Yet, there is an emotional pay-off that is absent from the film. Ben Younger doused the picture with sharp photography, an observant ear for realistic dialogue, and a well-selected soundtrack. These attributes should have added up to more. Bleed for This is better than the maudlin Southpaw but doesn’t reach the creative heights of Creed.
Director: Ben Younger
Stars: Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal, Ciarán Hinds, Ted Levine