Director Ben Younger
Starring Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Ciaran Hinds, Katey Sagal
Released 2nd December 2016
My Film Of The Year for 2015 was Whiplash. No contest. And two of the reasons were Miles Teller and the blistering J K Simmons. But, since then, neither of them have fared especially well in their choice of roles. Self-proclaimed “overnight sensation at 60” Simmons has appeared in a succession of small roles in big films, some good, some not so. For Teller, it’s been a rockier road: bigger roles in hyped films that have flopped. Even more recently in War Dogs, he spent most of his time in Jonah Hill’s mouthy shadow. So was Bleed For This going to be a return to form, a reminder of what he really can do?
Broadly – and thankfully – the answer is yes, although the film is no Whiplash. It’s based on the true story of boxer Vinny ‘Paz’ Pazienza, whose career reached its peak in the 1980s when he won the lightweight world championship and then the junior middleweight title. Shortly afterwards, a near fatal car crash put him in hospital with a broken neck and the possibility of never walking again, let alone getting back in the boxing ring. Offered two treatments, only one of which would allow him to box again, he found his way back into his sport just one year later.
While it’s Paz’s story, this isn’t necessarily Teller’s film. It’s dominated by a trio of powerhouse performances – Teller, of course, Aaron Eckhart as his trainer and Ciaran Hinds as his father, three characters who work together and, at times, against each other as well. “An animal” in the ring, Paz is a flashy, aggressive fighter, who relishes the money and the glamour that goes with being a champ, but it’s boxing that he really loves. His father Angelo (Ciaran Hinds, complete with loud shirts and plenty of bling) is a constant presence, literally always in his corner, pushing his son. Paz’s choice of trainer, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) doesn’t go down well with him, because his strategy completely contradicts the one Angelo has pursued for years. He’s Mike Tyson’s former coach, but it cuts no ice.
The three of them drive the story along, hardly ever pausing for breath. Teller has the intensity we associate with him, pugnacious, bloody minded and refusing ever to give up. He doesn’t reach the heights of Whiplash, but he gets close. There’s a hint of a Robert de Niro gangster about Hinds’ Angelo, who’s paunched up for the role. And Eckhart gives one of his best turns for some time as Rooney, a little too fond of the bottle but knowing exactly what makes Paz tick – and, more importantly, what makes him win.
Boxing movies tend to be about one thing and one thing only. Triumph over adversity. Which means that Bleed For This is just another boxing movie, even if its story is extraordinary and more extreme than most. In that sense, it doesn’t bring anything new to the genre and, despite the combination of Teller, Hinds and Eckhart, the film doesn’t pack the punch it should. Even though the fight scenes involve both real boxers and Teller himself, they lack excitement and leave it to the crowds to provide that. And almost all of the other characters merge into a blur in the background.
As boxing movies go, the story is remarkable and it’s almost impossible for the film to live up to it. Bleed For This delivers some powerful performances, but never knocks you out in the way it should.
Bleed For This is released on Friday, 2nd December and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 1st December.