From the Archives: Bleed For This review

From the Archives: Bleed For This review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

It would be easy to dismiss Bleed For This as a formulaic boxing drama, nearly identical to each and every Rocky knockoff that came before it, and in many ways it wouldn’t be an inaccurate assessment. It’s all there: a boxer overcoming personal troubles to enter the ring and it all comes down to one big fight with everything on the line. Yeah, that sounds about right. But what a troublingly broad description. The more interesting thing to do would be to point out the myriad ways that Ben Younger’s latest (and fist in eleven years) is a different beast. Bleed For This is the astounding true story of Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza, a boxer who, after finding long-awaited success in the ring by moving up in weight class, suffers a debilitating injury during a brutal car wreck. He’s lucky to be alive, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever box again. Paz is doomed to spend the next 6 months in a halo-style neck brace, followed surely by a bland, regular life.


The first thing that separates Bleed For This from all of the other cinematic tales of pugilism is that there is no villain. No Max Baer, no Ivan Drago, no whoever that guy was in Southpaw. Yes, all of Paz’s fights are against real life boxers, but none are framed as anything but fellow competitors. There is no grudge that needs to be settled. In this way, Bleed For This is one of the few sports film that embraces the oldest tenet of sportsmanship: with great power comes great responsibility.

Wait, no. That’s Spider-Man. What I meant to say was: the only true competitor is oneself.

And boy does Miles Teller capture Pazienza’s drive. With a scrappy charm, Teller portrays Pazienza as a mouthy, but relatively clean-cut guy. He’s not necessarily the brightest bulb, but he’s a kind-hearted sort whose love for boxing is matched only by the love has has for his tight-knit family. Yes, they’re all a bunch of Italian stereotypes (although none of them call sauce “gravy,” which is nice, because sauce is sauce and gravy is gravy AND THAT’S FINAL), but that’s part of the fun.


That’s another thing which sets this film apart: Pazienza isn’t struggling with any personal demons. In fact, his injury (at least as it’s depicted here) is obtained through no fault of his own. It’s quite literally an accident. To watch a comeback story in which the comer-backer is only dealing with the cruel hands of fate is a bit of an anomaly, and as I get older and begin to understand the wealth of things in life over which I have no control, I found this to be perhaps the most inspiring aspect of the film. The only thing holding our hero back from success is misfortune, and while most people would understandably and forgivably throw in the towel (see what I did there?), Paz refuses to follow the path of the common man.

Clinically speaking, doing bench presses with a broken neck is a bad idea, but I’m no doctor, nor have I played one on TV.

Each member of the cast performs admirably, keeping these larger than life characters anchored in the real world. Katey Sagal is the standout as Paz’s mom, who sits in the other room and listens to the fights because she can’t stand to see her baby hurt. She’s channeling a bit of Melissa Leo in The Fighter, as well as some Carmela Soprano, but still brings her own style to the role.

Rounding out the cast are Ciaran Hinds (from the north side of the Wall) as Paz’s overbearing father, and Aaron Eckhart as Kevin Rooney, the drunken trainer who has hit rock bottom after being fired by none other than Mike Tyson. You’d think that this overweight, balding Eckhart would be at the center of at least 2 training montages, but nope. THERE AREN’T ANY. I mean, there are definitely stitched-together moments of training, but as you’ll see, these are not in the style of the most essential of sports film tropes.

Kudos to Ben Younger for keeping Bleed For This out of the realm of flash. This is a relatively bland movie compared to last year’s boxing hit, Creed (which is still the superior film by a long shot). Bleed for This is not really about the boxing, and the way the matches are shot are indicative of precisely that. There aren’t any big, cinematic hits, nor is the camera even that interested in capturing the fisticuffs. In a lot of ways, the fights here are closer to the real thing than movies are classically willing to go, which is to say they’re not that exciting. Well, not that exciting on the surface – it’s the character work that gives the bouts weight.

On the whole, Bleed For This is a middleweight boxing picture, but it’s still a knockout. A technical knockout. That’s a boxing pun.

Bleed For This opens in Philly theaters today.

Official site.

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