With an infamous reputation for being an obnoxious jerk who is difficult to work with, actor Miles Teller has something to prove — and it shows throughout his impressive, heartfelt, and organic performance as real-life boxer Vinny Pazienza in the biopic “Bleed for This.”
Pazienza, an athlete from Rhode Island with two world title fights under his belt, was in a near fatal car crash which broke his neck and nearly severed his spine, and was told by doctors that he would never walk again. Teaming up with longtime trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), the two secretly began preparing the young man to return to the boxing ring. His story is an inspirational tale of fierce determination and unwavering perseverance, but the movie keeps a realistic tone that is only peppered with a few moments of sappy clichés.
Director Ben Younger (“Boiler Room”) handles the material with just the right balance of sports action scenes and family drama. While this “comeback kid” genre has been done to death, there are several clever scenes and dialogue that surprised me. The script, also written by Younger, is sturdy, a thoughtful adult drama done right. If you don’t know much about boxing, read up before seeing this film because nothing is spelled out for the audience — there’s an assumption that you know the general terms and rules surrounding the sport.
This isn’t really an exciting, rah-rah type of feel-good film (in other words, you won’t be applauding at the end). The film’s quiet power comes from the knockout performances by Teller and Eckhart, a pair of unlikely companions with a convincing chemistry of coach and trainee. These guys probably aren’t destined to be best buddies, but it’s clear they have a mutual respect for each other and their acting personalities create a natural fit.
Forget that Teller doesn’t have the physique of a boxer: he has the scrappy, confident personality to sell it completely. Supporting turns from Ciarán Hinds as Vinny’s father Angelo and Katey Sagal as his mother Louise are straightforward yet effective. The film is filled with odd casting decisions that somehow come together in perfect harmony, and the actors are what make this movie better than you’d expect it to be.
Still, this is a film that’s made for people who love sports movies, those who relish true stories of a surprise comeback against all odds, and especially for diehard fans of boxing. Maybe if I had a love for the subject I’d have been more engaged in Vinny’s struggles. While the writing and acting is top-notch, the film is nothing more than just okay. It’s not that the movie is bad or boring, it simply exists.
Matt was unavailable for review.