TIFF Film Review: BLEED FOR THIS
It was hard to figure out during the boxing movie that premiered at TIFF, Bleed for This, if I was watching a spoof called “Not Another Boxing Movie!” It worked for horror films and teen movies after all. But the filmmakers behind this project, improbably, are not kidding. They purport to take themselves seriously, even though the film is so cartoonish in some of its clichés that you won’t be able to. And you don’t have to: since the entire thing is rethreaded from other films, the movie feels more like a failed exercise in satire.
Bleed for This tells the story of Vinny Pazienza, played with the required trashy Northeastern accent by Miles Teller (New Jersey is the state of choice this time around). There is the hysterics-prone mother with an oversized perm (do you spot Melissa Leo? Oh, wait, this time it’s Katey Sagal, at least), the mostly supporting other family members (Ciaran Hinds plays his dad), and the conflicted and conflicting trainer (Aaron Eckhart, sporting a prosthetic beer gut and a make shift bald spot, headed for a completely undeserved Oscar nomination).
Vinny is a bad boy and is misunderstood. He drinks, frequents strip clubs, makes way too risky choices at the Blackjack table, and overall just gives a persistent headache to all the people around him—and the whole world revolves around him. His mother prays and worries while he’s in the ring, his trainer is flummoxed by his distractions, and his father is his strongest if quietest ally. But, hey, at least he has the heart of a champion.
If those sound corny and trite, you will love the hotel ballroom press conference where Vinny and his challengers show off the screenwriters’ ability for biting sarcasm and sardonic wit. Didn’t I just see this movie, and wasn’t it called Creed? Or, The Fighter? Not to say anything about Rocky or Raging Bull, of course. But Bleed for This, by Boiler Room director Ben Younger, is none of those. Indeed, the movie is arguably barely a boxing flick at all.
The dramatic crux of the story is that Vinny is in an unfortunate car accident where he breaks his neck. He has to live with a grotesque metal contraption known as a halo screwed into his skull for six months. And the only thing to keep him company other than trashy 80s VCR tapes and his nagging girlfriend is the doctors’ dire warning that he may never walk again, let alone box. The point is in the comeback story, and I suppose there is something admirable in overcoming adversity to pursue one’s dreams. But discretion is the better part of valor, and in this case Pazienza’s steadfast determination—abetted by his trainer—is borderline insane and self-destructive. We admire this all-means to win approach and make movies about it, though I’m not sure why.
The medical setback occupies the better part of the film, disappointing even the most diehard boxing movie fan. If you paid to see good cinematic portrayals of jabs and uppercuts you may be surprised to find yourself staring at a wired, whiny young man himself staring at a TV set while wishing he were at the gym. At least the gadget around his body provides for an amusing scene involving a lap dance.
Not much else will impress you. By the time the bell rings to start the final bout, you will feel so much familiarity with this story that you may as well have seen it in your dreams, and you may be wishing for a quick one-two punch to finally send the entire thing into the hands of the Sandman.