Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language, Sexuality/Nudity and some Accident Images
Directed by: Ben Younger
Written by: Ben Younger
Starring: Miles Teller, Katey Sagal, Aaron Eckhart, Ciaran Hinds, Sully Erna, Ted Levine, Peter Quillin & Edwin Rodriguez
I’m not a big fan of sports movie for the main reason that it seems like the same story being told over and over again. In the past two years, we’ve received four boxing movies in theaters. These being: CREED, SOUTHPAW, HANDS OF STONE and BLEED FOR THIS. This last title caught my interest purely for it being noted as one of the most incredible comebacks in sports history. Having read about Vinny Pazienza’s recovery, I was very excited to see it on the big screen. My excitement was further heightened by the casting of Miles Teller, who’s been carving out quite an acting career, in the role of Paz. I’m not a fan of sports movies, but BLEED FOR THIS is easily one of the best sports films that I’ve seen!
The year is 1988. Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller) is a boxer who’s been on a downward spiral of three losses. In an effort to wash his hands of Vinny, his manager throws the cocky fighter into the hands of washed-up coach Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart). The two form a fast friendship and Vinny quickly rises through two weight classes. Shortly after celebrating a triumphant victory, Vinny ends up in a terrible car accident that leaves him with a broken neck. What follows is a lot of heartbreak as Vinny spends six months in a halo brace and is told by pretty much everyone that he’ll never be able to fight again. This is a comeback story though, so you can probably imagine what happens next. However, it’s a very inspirational and emotional story nonetheless.
The first thing that needs to be praised about BLEED FOR THIS is Miles Teller’s performance. Though he has put crappy acting into the DIVERGENT series, Teller shines when he’s given the right material. He wowed me in WHIPLASH and played a solid scumbag in WAR DOGS. In BLEED FOR THIS, he becomes Vinny Paz! He nails this guy’s distinct tough voice, his intimidating body language and the impressively ripped look of this champion boxer. It’s a fantastic performance that’s only further heightened by actual archive footage in the credits. This post-credits footage manages to further showcase how much Teller managed to capture Paz in his acting.
The supporting cast is stellar as well. Aaron Eckhart does a damn fine job as trainer Kevin Rooney. This is a deeply flawed character who tries his best to help Vinny, even when he doesn’t necessarily believe in what he’s doing. The chemistry between Eckhart and Teller brings a lot of genuine laughs and makes their emotional conversations appear completely believable. Another highlight is Ciaran Hinds as Vinny’s father, who experiences a whirlwind of emotions before and after his son’s life-threatening accident. Also, Ted Levine is perfectly scummy as Vinny’s selfish manager.
BLEED FOR THIS’s overall look and feel echoes the time period in which it’s set. There’s retro technology, stylish outfits and a great soundtrack. None of it seems remotely overbearing though, because the story stays focused on Vinny. The script wisely spends a solid chunk of time building up Vinny’s slow rise to a different kind of fame in the first 40 minutes and is so engaging that the viewer almost forgets what’s coming. As soon as Vinny steps into the car, my heart sank though and realized how much of an effect this movie was having on my emotional state. It had me by the feels and wasn’t letting me go anytime soon.
BLEED FOR THIS is all-out inspirational and not above a few cheesy clichés in telling the deeply motivational story about how someone accomplished the seemingly impossible. The final minutes leave a resonating message to take away. As I mentioned before, sports movies seem utterly repetitive to me and this is especially true of boxing movies. Yet, BLEED FOR THIS moved and captivated me from start to finish. The performances are top-notch from everyone. The visual style is great. The plot will hit you hard and take you for an emotional journey. It’s a fantastically uplifting sports film and an overall fantastic movie. If you’re at all interested in Vinny Pazienza’s story, then you’ll likely love BLEED FOR THIS!