REVIEW: World Boxing Champion Biopic ‘Bleed For This’

Bleed For This (2016) is the latest offering from Director Ben Younger and is a biographical account of the life of former world champion boxer, Vinny Pazienza (Paz).

mv5bmtkwndq5nje0nv5bml5banbnxkftztgwmjm0ndmzote-_v1_sy1000_cr0011281000_al_While this description alone sparks images of Rocky and The Fighter, this movie is an enjoyable and inspirational viewing experience that is accessible to those without thorough knowledge of boxing.

The biopic comes with some serious name power – “executive produced by Martin Scorsese” – and this can be seen throughout to those who are aware of his work. The film is littered with Scorsese-isms and visuals that help set it in the period and sometimes these visuals can seem a bit blatant; with the Italian-American milieu, the setting of 1988 Rhode Island and intermixing fight scenes to the narrative, the film has the Scorsese stamp all over it.

Despite this, it is a great offering from director Ben Younger who has a surprisingly sparse filmography despite the calibre of this film (his most successful film to date being arguably Boiler Room in 2000).

The story follows Paz who, following a world champion win, is involved in a near fatal accident that leaves him risking paralysis, and his determination to not only box again but to compete internationally and become world champion again.

mv5bmty4mtm5ndkzof5bml5banbnxkftztgwmjmzmzgwmdi-_v1_sy1000_sx1500_al_As with most inspirational movies, there is an expectation of an emotional journey and this film delivers, even if the impact isn’t quite a knockout.

Every boxing film, whether a biopic or not, requires a pivotal moment and in “Bleed For This” it arises from the crash after which Paz is given a choice by doctors: take the safer route of spinal fusion, which increases the chance that he will walk again but would prevent a return to the ring, or, more fitting to the stubborn character who moved up two weight categories early in the film regardless of the risk, he chooses the riskier Plan B – a neck brace called a Halo that is screwed directly into his skull.

While this should leave him immobile and slow the film down, the long recovery period is peppered with secret training sessions in the basement of his house, against the odds, against medical advice and against his father’s expressed wishes.

The stubbornness that saw the choice of Plan B helps root the viewer in the final part of the journey back to the boxing ring and onto the world stage. Anyone stubborn enough to choose the riskier path to health wouldn’t do anything by halves, and so an almost instantaneous return to international boxing, while seemingly unlikely, becomes a likely result in the face of a mix of stubbornness and determination.

mv5bzgqwotg2mjqtotiwzc00zjkxltg0yzytndc5owu5mjm4nja4xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymdgynja5ma-_v1_Miles Teller was powerful as Paz, creating a fact based drama that despite the odd cliché doesn’t detract from the overall film. However, Aaron Eckhart was almost unrecognisable as Kevin Rooney, Paz’s coach, and put in a stellar scene stealing performance where he projected raw passion and belief in his support of Paz.

He navigated the flux of emotions experienced by friends and family of Paz. He acted as the lead marker for their emotions and a trajectory for the end result as he took the lead in his support, albeit reluctantly initially. Whereas family and friends were hesitant to encourage a return to boxing, and were at times aggressively anti-boxing following Paz’s injury.

Ciaran Hinds, our very own Belfast born actor, like Aaron Eckhart seemed unrecognisable at times as Angelo, the father of Paz. He was a key player in the film, and helped to balance the images of illness in a hospital with the reality of everyday illness, at one point being seen to help bathe his son as he recovers from his illness.

mv5bmta2oty4ndqxntfeqtjeqwpwz15bbwu4mdczmzm4mday-_v1_sy1000_cr006531000_al_The scene itself is fleeting but poignant and is an important element that is usually ignored or glossed over in many films that deal with illness or disability.

Together the key actors Miles, Aaron and Ciaran form a trinity of acting that creates an enjoyable movie that along with the occasional mix of documentary style footage and seemingly hand held shots and close-ups, helps to create an intimate affair. This helps pave the emotional journey from success to disappointment, heartache and tragedy through to the ultimate end.

While some, such as Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian, have felt this film lacks an emotional punch, many who attended the screening that BAM NI attended were visibly rooting for Paz and his hope for a comeback.

The occasional choice of imagery via montage has sparks of Rocky, and the movie is worth seeing if you enjoy boxing. Even with no background in the sport, it is a feel-good movie and while it isn’t the best boxing film to date, it is a thoroughly enjoyable offering which will keep you in your seat without lifting you from it with excitement.