#REVIEW: “BLEED FOR THIS”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller) is a hot shot boxer in the 1980s with an immaculate record. Just after winning the junior middleweight world championship, Pazienza is involved in a horrific car accident that leaves him with a broken neck and the fear that he may never fight or even walk again. Not taking his diagnosis lightly, he gets outfitted with a halo – a medical device used to heal his spine, but screws into his skull in four places – and begins training against the advice of his doctors and the wishes of his family.
Despite this being only his third Feature in nearly two decades, Writer/Director Ben Younger has created a genuine crowd-pleaser with Bleed for This. It is funny, thrilling, emotional and just plain enjoyable – often all at once. He wisely carves out this slice of Pazienza’s life and mines it for all of its cinematic glory. As a result, the Film never gets sidetracked or longwinded, and it breezes through its 116-minute running time with relative ease. The depth and development of everyone other than Teller is a little too surface-deep, but I found myself drawn to the characters Younger adapts nonetheless. The Film looks and feels authentic, and while the fight scenes do not live up to the spectacular work found in last year’s boxing hits Creed and Southpaw, they are still well composed and choreographed.
Teller brings a ridiculous amount of intensity and gravitas to the lead role. The physicality of the performance is a little unusual based on his previous work, but he puts in more than the required effort needed to ensure we feel every single one of his triumphant successes and bitter failures. He gets to quip with his trademark wise-ass commentary, but Teller really tries to hone in on something deeper here. The anguish on his face and body during scenes where Pazienza is wearing the halo are harrowing and downright excruciating to watch. The Film never revels in the violence and pain inflicted by and towards Teller, but it is very hard to not be affected by it. While the script may stumble, Teller maintains the focus and drive needed to make this a solid performance.
Supporting turns from Ciarán Hinds as Pazienza’s father/manager Angelo and Aaron Eckhart’s trainer Kevin Rooney are well-done. Both of the actors are given emotionally pivotal moments in the Film, and shine despite the emphasis on Teller. Eckhart’s work here is some of the best of his career, and makes for one hell of a fall season when paired beside his supporting work in Clint Eastwood’s Sully. But while there are no issues with the lead male actors, Younger has a bad habit of doing very little with his attractive young female cast. They look gorgeous, but they serve very little point to the larger story. Little-known Christine Evangelista is on the poster beside Teller and Eckhart, but I cannot recall who she is or what her point is in the Film. Katey Sagal fares even worse in her completely one-note role as Pazienza’s mother Louise. We know she stresses about her son’s health and safety, and is constantly praying – but we learn literally nothing outside of that.
It has flaws and is not the Oscar-baity Drama many imagined it would be, but Bleed for This is an all-around crowd-pleaser. It has its heart in the right place and is genuinely enjoyable to watch. Teller is a force of nature here with his most physically-imposing role yet. He may not be an Oscar contender this year, but if he keeps delivering intense performances like this, it’s only a matter of time.
Sony Pictures Canada release BLEED FOR THIS in theatres on Friday, November 18, 2016.