Movie Review: 'Bleed for This' (2016)

Movie Poster for 'Bleed for This' - Miles Teller stars in the boxing drama
“Bleed for This” is confidently directed by Ben Younger, stars a cast that has exponentially transformed themselves to physically resemble their real-life counterparts, and yet something is missing. A distracting soundtrack and hurried script make “Bleed for This” hemorrhage the sense of a well-rounded cinematic experience.

The movie tells the true story of Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), a World Champion boxer whose life is upended when a near-fatal car accident leaves him fighting for his life and the use of his legs.

Vinny opts to wear a Halo instead of having a spinal fusion surgery so he can box again. It is a brave decision and the movie’s key plot point, as it delves into the mind of an athlete determined to return to the sport he loves.

Despite heavy-hitting performances by its cast, “Bleed for This” does not land a knockout punch. Certain dilemmas are glossed over, as well as their implications. The movie engages all of them with varying degrees of exposition.

All the while ratcheting up the gruesome tension brought on by Vinny's decision to where the Halo and re-enter the ring, both moves that could permanently cost him his physical mobility. All of this tension is somewhat diffused by the fact Hollywood is making a movie about it, and as most film-goers know, Hollywood rarely makes a movie about a story that ends badly.

Title portion of 'Bleed for This' movie poster
[Image by Open Road Films]

To get to the bottom of what this movie is missing, you have to dig into the sports films that have worked. “Bleed for This” shares a great deal in common with the football drama “Rudy,” the Formula 1 biopic “Rush,” the underdog classic “Rocky,” and the highly underrated boxing drama “Southpaw.”

In Vinny, you have the determination of “Rudy” and “Rocky’s” titular protagonist. While with “Rush,” you have the parallels of its protagonists surviving a cataclysmic car crash. In the face of bare-knuckle survival, both men rapidly work to return to their sport.

Both Niki Lauda and Vinny’s brutal recoveries and preparation for a comeback to the sport they love is depicted in their respective films. Completing the comparative set is the driving angst “Bleed for This” shares with “Southpaw.”

Unfortunately, “Bleed for This” lacks the sweet spirit of “Rudy” and “Rocky,” the riveting character study in “Rush,” and the romance that fuels both "Rush” and “Southpaw.” In comparison, “Bleed for This” is surprisingly vacant on the usual notes that pack a sports movie, which is not a bad thing, just something that makes it different.

Miles Teller gives a great performance, though his role is heavily akin to those in his previous films. Given the similarity, there is little room for Teller to capitalize on great nuance with his characterization. Teller is a great actor. He just needs a role that can let him break free of the personality, casting directors tend to favor him for.

Not faced with Teller’s dilemma is Ciarán Hinds, whose gripping performance as Vinny’s supportive dad is the heart of the film. Hinds is the anchor the rest of the cast rallies around because he expresses so much without saying a single word.

International movie poster for 'Bleed for This' starring Miles Teller
[Image by Open Road Films]

As Angelo Pazienza, Hinds’ eyes grow wide with fear during his son’s match, in one moment, before glowing with pride for him the next. It is an emotional seesaw only an actor with Hinds’ finesse could manage and as Angelo, he is positively flawless.

Vinny’s dad also has the biggest arc of the film. He goes from supporting his son no-matter-what to getting a wake-up call that goes largely unanswered by his brash son. Vinny is in the driver’s seat and his dad is along for the ride.

This unusual take on the father/son, coach/athlete relationship gives “Bleed for This” an edge, in terms of grappling with a rarely explored piece of the genre's emotional real estate. The impact an unrelenting athlete has on their family is rarely discussed, though commonly acknowledged. However, “Bleed for This” makes it clear that the lives of an athlete’s family are just as intertwined with the sport being played, as the athlete they rally around to support playing it.

“Bleed for This” focuses on the blood, sweat, and tears of its central characters. While every actor brings their A-game to portraying these instances, the script often limits the full range of the story they are trying to tell.

For instance, Aaron Eckhart’s physical commitment to his role renders him almost unrecognizable, and his emotional characterization is just as strong. However, the movie only merits his contribution with a skin deep exploration of a man that clearly deserves a deeper one than he receives.

“Bleed for This” heavily relies on its cast to pick up what the script is missing and they do an extraordinary job of it. The actors are the film’s lifeblood. Although one cannot help thinking the film had more opportunity coursing through its veins to better showcase them. “Bleed for This” is far from a bloody mess, though it does bleed some considerable potential. Rating: 7.3/10

[Featured Image by Open Road Films]