Bleed For This is a kinetic boxing drama about a remarkable comeback. Director/writer Ben Younger immerses you in the eventful life of Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), a tough as nails fighter from blue collar Rhode Island. The late eighties setting, period dress, and brash New England accents are vividly depicted in close-ups and quick edits. The film has a Martin Scorsese, who's also a producer, vibe with a thumping soundtrack and raucous Italian characters. The plot is by the numbers, but the fantastic performances more than make up for any deficiency.
Bleed For This opens comically with Vinny Pazienza going to extremes to make weight for a title fight. It's a telling scene, smartly establishing the lead characters and their personalities. You have Vinny's father, Angelo (Ciaran Hinds), a brash, dominant figure and Lou Duva (Ted Levine), his exasperated trainer. Lou believes Vinny has gone as far as he can go. The kid has heart and can take a beating, but doesn't have the skill to be a champion. He pawns Vinny off on Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), the trainer who started Mike Tyson's career. Rooney, an alcoholic, convinces Vinny to stop dropping weight. Bulk up, fight in a higher weight class. Vinny embraces this new philosophy with vigor, only to have a horrific tragedy change his life forever.
Coming from Open Road Films, Bleed For This is a story about courage and perseverance against impossible odds. Miles Teller takes you on this journey with deft aplomb. He goes from chiseled show man, to the depths of despair, to reclaiming a life that was viciously taken. It is a powerhouse performance. It's hard to believe this is the same actor who starred in Whiplash and the vastly underrated War Dogs. Teller is proving to be supremely versatile. He will definitely be in the mix come Oscar time.
Younger nails the interplay between the characters. Pazienza's deeply religious mother (Katey Sagal) and sister (Amanda Clayton) are steadfast supporters. His relationship with Kevin Rooney, the conflict between Rooney and his father, it's riveting to see. At first the characters come off as caricatures, stereotypes. But as the film progresses and the drama ramps up, we get first rate acting. It is the strength of Bleed For This.
The boxing scenes are well done, but honestly weren't that interesting to me. We've seen this all before, especially on the heels of The Fighter, Southpaw, and Creed. Bleed For This works because of the story outside the ring. It's entertaining, empowering, and has a whole lot of swagger. Younger has made the best film of his career to date. Fight fans and neophytes will score Bleed For This a knockout.