Taking familiar material and spicing it up with some unexpected touches and a strong dose of extreme personal triumph, last year’s thoroughly entertaining and always absorbing true-life boxing movie Bleed for This, from writer/director Ben Younger (Boiler Room, Prime), deserved a lot more than to bomb at the box-office and draw only middling critical responses. What were people expecting? This movie hits all the proper beats, digs in deep to the hardscrabble world that it presents, and features extremely strong acting work from Miles Teller as Vinnie Pazienza, Aaron Eckhart as his alcoholic trainer, and Ciaran Hinds as Pazienza’s father. The ringside bouts are bloody and brutal, the dialogue is appropriately rough and frequently profane (and also very funny in numerous spots), and the car-accident sequence and subsequent rehabilitation that Pazienza went through is as harrowing and squirm inducing as anything I’ve seen in a while, with a large part of that feeling stemming from the fact that this occurred in real life. Pazienza DID have the metal “Halo” device screwed into his skull (not sure which scene was tougher to view, putting it on, or taking it off…), he did go back to training while nursing his broken neck, and he did go on to fight again and become a champion.
All of this is communicated with fleet storytelling by Younger, and a dedication from all of the actors in making everything feel honest and believable, especially Teller, who clearly went all out physically, and really makes you care about a rather stubborn individual who makes some decisions which aren’t easy to understand. And after dropping a great supporting turn in Clint Eastwood’s Sully, Eckhart had another lost-in-the-shuffle performance in Bleed for This, playing a has-been trainer who can’t control his liquor but who still is sharp inside the gym and ring. And Hinds, who has a truly unique sense of screen presence, clearly had a blast playing the tough-love but rational father of Pazienza, a man prone to spouting the “F-word” in tandem with colorful put-downs and vulgarity, but also a man who at his core loves his family and would do anything for them. Larkin Siple’s hand-held cinematography conveys the required uneasiness and grittiness that the story demands, the soundtrack is peppered with some choice cuts, and Zac Stuart-Pontier’s sharp editing allows the film to effortlessly breeze through its 110 minute running time. Also, as it must be noted: Ted Levine POWER. Bleed for This is currently available on Blu-ray/DVD and via various streaming providers.