We’ve been there and seen much of this before: the story of a tough-talking fighter who doesn’t know when to quit, as befits his working-class New England family. For the record, writer-director Ben Younger says he deliberately didn’t watch The Fighter so he wouldn’t copy elements of that film, to which it bears a superficial resemblance…especially in its depiction of an Italian-American family from Providence, Rhode Island. But Bleed for This is still worth seeing, despite its familiar trappings.

First, it’s based on the true story of Vinny Paz (full name: Pazienza), a champion who returned to boxing after breaking his neck and being told he might not ever walk again, let alone fight. No screenwriter could make this up. Moreover, it would be a shame to miss the gallery of great performances that highlight this film.

Miles Teller plays Vinny, a loose cannon if there ever was one. He brings the physicality and stubborn toughness to his character that has made “the Pazmanian Devil” a local legend, if not always for the most salutary reasons. His trainer Kevin Rooney is played by Aaron Eckhart, but I freely confess that I didn’t recognize him for at least five minutes. He not only altered his appearance but brought his A-game to this endeavor. The way he and Teller communicate seems effortless and genuine. It’s a marvel to behold, in and out of the ring, even more so when you learn that this movie was shot on a tight schedule and budget.

That chameleonlike Irish actor Ciarán Hinds plays Vinny’s dad, a huge presence in his son’s life, and Katey Sagal plays the boxer’s mother, who can’t bear to watch him in the ring and retreats to a private sanctuary in their home. Character actor Ted Levine, almost as unrecognizable as Eckhart, scores in a strong supporting role as a local boxing kingpin. These actors add immeasurable flavor to an already colorful tale.

Bleed for This was obviously a passion project for everyone involved, including filmmaker Ben Younger, whose career has gone off-track since his impressive debut with Boiler Room in 2000. With a little help from executive producer Martin Scorsese, he got this film greenlit and gave it his all. The results speak for themselves—and the movie deserves to be seen.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024