By Laurie Coker
Last year’s Creed manage to make boxing interesting to the masses and this year, Bleed For This, starring Miles Teller, sets its sights on doing the same. Director and screenwriter Ben Younger, tells the true story of Vinny Pazienza, the only boxer to compete and win championships in three different weight classes. With Younger behind pen and camera, Bleed For This goes the distance, chronicling one man’s fight against the odds.
Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” (Teller) and his father (Ciarán Hinds) live and breathe boxing. His Italian Catholic mother (Katie Segal) holes away in a shrine-like room, lighting candles and saying the rosary while his sister and friends watch his fights on television cheering him on. Vinny is a cocky, colorful character completely confident in his ability to win and if self-confidence were enough he’d be more than unstoppable. His story is remarkable in many ways. After a couple of poor showings, backers (including his own manager) try to get Vinny to quit, but to no avail. Wanting to put more skill behind his words, he enlists Mike Tyson’s former trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart – looking far less dashing than is typical) to hone his abilities. Rooney, a known alcoholic, convinces Vinny to beef up a class in weight. After struggling to maintain a lighter weight of one hundred-forty, he finds rhythm and success at one fifty-four. Proving his tenacity, he wins his second world championship.
Flying high on his triumphs, Vinny sets out for a drive with a friend, when a vehicle swerves head-on into the car in which he is a passenger – fracturing his neck, not causing paralysis, but putting him into a precarious position. Even though doctors tell him he might never walk again if he suffers further injury, Vinny opts to wear a “halo” screwed directly into his skull for six long months, rather than listen to reason. Reluctantly at first, in the basement of the family home, Rooney agrees to help him with recovery. Surprising everyone, Vinny, less than a year after the accident, comes back bigger and stronger, putting him in the same weight class as boxer Roberto Duran.
Bleed for This’ ensemble cast is strong, but it is Teller, who allows the film to rise above other sports and boxing movies. He captures the essence of determination and personal strength. Eckhart, too, pushes past the predictable pitfalls that often plague such films, never allowing it to fall into feel-goody holiday fodder. Younger’s writing is refreshing – he avoids repetitive beat down scenes, hokey clichés and all the nonsense often associated with pummeling viewers senseless for the sake of unnecessary drama. He fleshes out his characters and his story with perfect pacing and a topnotch cast.
Rated R, Bleed for This will be on the awards scene radar for sure. In Pazienza’a career, 30 out of 50 wins were knockouts. Younger creates a character rich story rather than one built on tension derived from drawn out pugilistic square-offs. Thanks to Teller, Vinny Pazienza will find himself, once again, in the winner’s circle. I am placing an A- in my grade book.