Boxing has been very good to cinema over the years, and has become a sub-genre in its own right, providing the canvas to tell triumphant tales that revolve around the squared circle. The latest effort of this ilk, based on the remarkable true story of former world champion Vinny Pazienza, is Bleed for This, written and directed by Ben Younger. Oozing with style, swagger and success, Vinny (Miles Teller) had it all but always wanted more. After teaming up with troubled trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) and reaching the top, a tragic accident stops him in his tracks and leaves him close to paralysation. Going against doctor’s orders and the advice from everyone around him, Vinny refuses to throw in the towel.
With the use of archive footage from the era, an authenticity is achieved that gives a strong essence of the boxing business in the late eighties. As well as this, the close-knit Pazienza family dynamic is established early on, and his strong relationship with his parents becomes crucial as the plot develops. As a sports movie, the usual tropes are used in and around the ropes, and the fights themselves lack the impact and intensity that they deserve. There may be a lack of originality in the beginning but when the accident occurs, the film becomes much more about the boxer than the boxing, and really takes shape. Along with stellar acting, the use of music and humour keep the road to recovery entertaining even if the plot follows a familiar path.
Miles Teller swaps the drumsticks of Whiplash for boxing gloves to give another performance fuelled by courage and stubborn determination. Despite possessing the arrogance that often comes with being a brawler, Teller manages to make Vinny very likeable, bringing out his youthful charisma and his dark sense of humour brilliantly. With a conveyer belt of groupie girlfriends, there isn’t much of a romantic subtext at play, so his family interactions take centre stage. The casting of Ciarán Hinds as his pushy but protective father is a masterstroke, and Katey Sagal is effective as his God-fearing mother, a caring presence that is a far cry from the powerhouse persona of Gemma Teller she is associated with. Aaron Eckhart is equally fantastic in a quite transformative turn as Vinny’s loyal trainer, ditching the movie-star looks for a dishevelled appearance that offers added depth to his emotive portrayal of Kevin Rooney.
Bleed for This is a fine addition to the ever-growing boxing back catalogue, with Ben Younger slopping a thick layer of cinematic gloss onto Vinny Pazienza’s inspirational story. Structurally, the film’s narrative is commonplace within the genre, but with tremendous truth at its core, there is nothing at all wrong with traditional storytelling. In perhaps the most beloved boxing movie franchise ever, Rocky Balboa famously said ‘Life ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward’. The Pazmanian Devil completely epitomises this never-say-die mentality, and Miles Teller’s powerful performance will leave you on the ropes.