A Long Road Back To The Ring: Bleed For This
In the 1980s, Vinnie Pazienza was one of the leading contenders in his weight class, and even held the lightweight title for a brief time. Bleed For This takes a look at some six years in the life of Rhode Island boxer Pazienza (Miles Teller), who was trained by his father Angelo (Ciaran Hinds) at the gym owned by the older Pazienza. After changing weight classes and losing a decision to Roger Mayweather (Peter Quillin), trainer and manager Lou Duva (Ted Levine) suggests that Pazienza leave the ring, as nobody wants to take a fight with him. Instead, Vinny hires trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), who has some personal baggage, to work with him. After watching him spar, Rooney suggests Pazienza move up in weight class instead of working so hard to make weight. That strategy works, as Vinny boxes his way to another title belt.
Things change, though, when an auto accident leaves Vinny with a broken neck. The doctor puts a halo on Vinny, and tells him he'll never box again. Vinny doesn't want to hear this news, and in time, gets Kevin to help him train in the basement of the Pazienza house, where the boxer still lives with his father and his mother Louise (Katey Sagal). The concerns of the elder Pazienzas do not deter either Vinny or Kevin. When the doctor finally removes the halo, the pair head back to the gym, where potential sparring partners balk at working with the boxer. They work the media, convince someone to spar, and finally get a match. Not only does Vinny surprise everyone by winning, he takes a chance in moving up one more weight class to get a title shot against Roberto Duran (Edwin Rodriguez).
Bleed For This is a gritty, but somewhat predictable, movie from scenarist-director Ben Younger, who's perhaps best known for his 2000 drama Boiler Room. The Pazienza family, which includes adult children, still lives under one roof, and don't seem to have prospects beyond the success of Vinny. I wish Younger would have put more of a focus on the personal story than he did. The boxing story is interesting, but viewers wouldn't be seeing this picture if Vinny's doctor had been correct. Also, I feel that movies such as Cinderella Man and Raging Bull told more compelling and complete stories about boxers. The comeback story is good, but Younger focuses more on the sports than any other aspect that could have made this a film portrait rather than just a telling of certain events.
Teller, with his performance, gives this film a spark as the boxer who was known as the Pazmanian Devil. Vinny thrives in the spotlight and in the ring, and wants to do everything to get back there. He may brag about what he can do, but backs up his words with his punches. He wants more input on his future in the ring than anyone else, and he finds a way to get it. Eckhart also does a solid job as Rooney, the one person who can relate to Vinny's desire to be in the ring. He pushes Vinny as hard as he pushes himself. Sometimes, he lets his vices get the better of him, such as the scene where he gets arrested for attempting to drive after too many drinks. Hinds, Levine, and Sagal (with blonde hair) also do decently in support. Film footage of the real Vinny and his parents are seen during the film's closing credits.
A quick look at the life of Vinny Pazienza, who now lives as Vinny Paz, shows there is more to the man than depicted in Bleed For This. The movie, consequently, is more of a sports picture and not a sports biopic. The story of Vinny Paz's comeback makes for a good sports story, as does his successful rise in weight class. Bleed For This, though, doesn't touch on his gambling or his failed relationships, save for the fact that he had these things happen. The movie simply focuses on a man determined not to let anyone else tell him when to leave the ring. Vinny Paz proved that he earned another shot at a title.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Bleed For This three stars. The fight extends beyond the ring in its own way.