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.