Bleed for This Plot Summary:
Based on the true story of World Champion boxer Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), who after a near fatal car accident refuses spinal fluid that will guarantee him to walk again. Vinny chooses to heal his body through a risky halo apparatus screwed into his head in the hopes that he will fight again.
Boxing movies are always compelling. They are the bare essentials of what makes a film great. Protagonist. Challenge to overcome. The comeback. Climactic fight. Whirlwind of emotions. Bleed for This is no different. This is a workmanlike effort from director Ben Younger (Boiler Room). I mean that as the highest compliment. The story is practically gift wrapped and hand delivered to make one hell of a movie, but Younger doesn’t sit back on his laurels. There are no tricks here. Younger puts together a tight, lean, well edited powerful punch of a film. He lets the characters do the talking. The two leads should and will get Oscar consideration.
I’ve praised Miles Teller up and down in previous reviews. This movie cements him as one of the better talents in Hollywood. He simply knows what to bring out of a character. There’s already an anticipation within the first ten seconds of the movie. Once we meet Vinny, we immediately know who he is. He’s a hothead, but dedicated to his craft. He’s glib, but intense. He’s to the point. Teller fleshes this out flawlessly, sometimes even all at once.
It’s the sad moments, the almost giving up moments where Teller goes to that Oscar caliber level. There’s a scene where Vinny is riding in the back of a car after a night of gambling. He practically breaks down at the realization that he’ll probably never fight again. It works the same way as when Boobie Miles breaks down in Friday Night Lights, but more subtle. Teller crushes it. Vinny is always compelling, even when the guy is simply watching TV. The screenplay develops his gambling persona early on, so when he takes the ultimate risk to wear the halo, you immediately understand why he does it. As great as Teller is, I’m not sure he gives the best performance.
What a year for Aaron Eckhart. First Sully, now this. Eckhart plays Kevin Rooney, Vinny’s manager. As Tyson’s former manager, he’s completely broken down. In Eckhart’s first scene I almost wanted to shout out “Give him the nomination now!” When you first hear his voice, it’s hard to tell this is Aaron Eckhart. It’s a masterful performance. The relationship between him and Vinny works in spades. Kevin battles multiple demons. He’s a wash out. Vinny’s accident rips him apart. He struggles with training Vinny again, but also selfishly wants to get his career back. Eckhart carries all this weight (quite literally) in his performance.
It’s the two leads who stand out, but the film is peppered with great supporting roles. Katey Sagal plays Louise, Vinny’s mom. She doesn’t have a ton of scenes, but they all have an impact. There’s a running motif where she goes into the other room during Vinny’s fights that is very effective. It’s the hospital scenes that really slay you though, as you can imagine. Ciaran Hinds plays Vinny’s father, Angelo, and is also a great presence. He’s constantly at war with himself as Vinny’s father and co-manager. He has a couple stand out moments with Teller.
The characters are great, but it all goes back to Younger’s intricate directing. When Vinny starts lifting weights again in his basement with the halo on, everything is perfectly shot and edited. The sound of the halo hitting the bar, and the weights dropping to the floor are effective as hell. When you watch Vinny try and lift, part of you is rooting for him, but the other is wishing this guy would just stop. This movie really makes you think about the mindset of a professional athlete and just how insane they are. There are plenty of cringing moments, like when Vinny gets his halo removed. Yikes. The Doctor sums it up with the perfect line. The dialogue is also beautiful. Not flashy, but very direct. For an intense film, there’s plenty of well-timed humor.
There isn’t a lot to complain about. I suppose the climax could have had more oomph, but at the same time it’s not a Rocky movie. This movie does what all good “Based on a true story” movies do, which is give you a yearning to learn more. Hopefully Ben Younger doesn’t take another eleven-year hiatus in between films. If you’re a fan of sports movies, this is required viewing. If you’re a fan of movies, you should probably watch it anyway.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Really Great)
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.