Based on the stunning true life events of former at that point, 2-time (5-time total) World Champion boxer, Vinny Pazienzaaka ‘The Pazmanian Devil’ (played by Miles Teller), “Bleed for This” is an inspirational tale with a modest edge of humility to its heartfelt message.
Boxing fans will recognise many famous names throughout, his first opponent in the film is Roger Mayweather, uncle and trainer of the legendary Floyd Mayweather Jr. The trainer who helps Vinny through his accident and coaches him in his two other fights in the film is Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) former coach of the animalistic Mike Tyson. Vinny’s final opponent in the film is none other than 80’s fan favourite Roberto Duran, ‘Hands Of Stone’ was also the subject of his own biopic this year with a film of the same name.
Miles Teller, of “Whiplash” fame, gives a performance with a similar sense of intensity, albeit with a different kind of character. Teller faces the classic biopic problem, heightened when the subject is still alive, of having to give a dramatic, emotional performance whilst believably portraying the real-life person. The true mastery of Teller’s performance, for me, resides in the fact that he ever-so-slightly underplays the character, Al dente, if you will.
In footage of Vinny Pazienza he appears a little more animated with his moustache, flashy tracksuits and head brace -he can come across part maniacal, part comical. Teller does not fall into a trap of making ‘Paz’ into a caricature, sure there are casinos, women and trash talking, but at heart he comes across as a respectful and loving family man, dedicated to his art and willing to sacrifice everything.
This way, his will to achieve is not born of rage, oppressive masculinity and insecurity (see “Raging Bull”) but instead is a more humble, human dedication to living life to its full. His quieter moments allow the audience a deeper sympathy with the character, never becoming alienated from him and his motivations.
Aaron Eckhart plays the somewhat run-down boxing coach Kevin Rooney, recently fired by Mike Tyson, Rooney is drinking a lot and is keen to get a fighter winning again at the top level. Eckhart starts a little slow, as his character naturally gets introduced, but eventually comes right to the forefront, so much so that the movie touches on the more modern trend of ‘bromance’. The story picks up when Eckhart joins the fray, here is when we see the crucial shift in the narrative which drives the rest of the movie and the dynamics which Eckhart brings adding a deeper layer to what we’ve seen until this point.
The story starts in a hectic and fun montage style sequence with Vinny frantically making weight for the Mayweather fight before heading off to a casino for a late gambling session, the night before a world title fight. After the fight Vinny is given to Kevin Rooney to be trained and the two embark on their rollercoaster relationship together. The infamous car accident comes around midway and provides the emotional trajectory for the rest of the film. Bedridden and down-hearted, Vinny struggles with his sedentary existence and defiantly dreams of returning to the ring, despite his serious neck injury.
He gets himself onto the weight bench and starts his attempt to bring his body back to its former condition in secret. Upon discovering this reckless pursuit, despite some initial resistance, Rooney joins him and aids him in his strength training, a feat which solidifies their brotherhood. The pair, and family, work towards getting Vinny back into the ring, his difficult journey ends up (against all odds) with him in the ring against the formidable Roberto Duran.
The action stays firmly in the region of boxing, not that it disappoints. Fighting and training scenes in the film are conservative, as the focus remains on the emotion involved and the narrative and interaction of the characters, rather than the action itself, meaning it is probably not too heavily anchored in combat for non-boxing fans.
The in-ring action is well delivered, if a little underplayed, with a flash of Pazienza’s showboating style, with swirling fists as homage to his idol, the great Muhammad Ali. We get a sense of Paz’s grit and power in the ring which are all expected, the film does however show in these fights that he was boxing and not just fighting.
‘The Pazmanian Devil’ moves his head well and expertly slips some dangerous punches off the ropes as well as working off the jab and putting together smart combinations, all very enjoyable to see as some boxing films love to focus on the slugging and brawling (think “Southpaw”, though it was a lot of fun!) with the result that very little of the art of boxing ends up displayed. Legendary boxing coach Freddie Roach acts as boxing consultant on the movie and no doubt some of this stellar work is due to himself.
The film’s obligatory-boxing-movie-training-montage is kept painlessly short and focuses less on boxing than on Vinny’s physical rehabilitation. Starting with a bench press in his basement, Vinny gradually builds strength back into his body with weight training, coached by Kevin Rooney using a variety of basic exercises and increasing his range of motion, the whole time wearing a giant head brace ‘halo’. Real footage of Vinny is used in snippets throughout the whole film and are memorable in this scene in particular, because of its importance.
A short, artistic montage using a great number of shots cut together rapidly in maniac fashion, are used as the climax to the training and flashed camera shots include him grunting in pain whilst lifting, being punched in the ring and the car crash itself.
“Bleed For This” is an enjoyable and inspirational story first of all, then a good boxing movie. While it does not try to break new creative ground in the genre, it utilises the necessary genre components in order to efficiently tell its emotional tale. Excellent performances from its protagonists, a solid script and efficient narrative make it an all-round good film. The movie, along with the hero Vinny Pazienza, will be fondly remembered.
- Legendary trainer of Manny Pacquiao, Freddie Roach acts as boxing consultant on the film.
- Aaron Eckhart, who plays coach Kevin Rooney, spent time in Freddie Roach’s Wild Card gym to watch Roach and Pacquiao prepare for his second fight with Timothy Bradley.
- Kevin Rooney’s son, Kevin Jr. gave Eckhart some tips on how his father would train people and his psychology.
- Star, Miles Teller also plays a character who survives a car crash in his breakthrough role, “Whiplash”. Teller was actually in a near-fatal car crash, which he miraculously survived, some 9 years ago, before he made it big as an actor.
- Teller went through an intense training programme to prepare for the role, totalling 8 months. He did 4 hours of boxing daily and went from 18% bodyfat to an impressive 6% in order to convincingly portray the physical side of the role.
- In real life, Vinny Pazienza after his accident, was forced to wear a medical apparatus known as a halo -a rounded brace made of metal which was screwed into his skull in four places and kept upright with four metal rods. Pazienza had this device in place for three months, while he carried on working out against doctors’ orders.
- Pazienza came back thirteen months after the incident to defeat future WBC World Jr. Middleweight ChampionLuis Santana via a 10-round decision. It’s still regarded by many as the single greatest comeback of all time in the sport of boxing.