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Bleed For This - Review

Bleed For This

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

STRONG performances and a genuinely remarkable real-life tale help Ben Younger’s boxing drama Bleed For This rise above the similarities it undoubtedly shares with other films in the genre.

Inspired by the true story of Vinny ‘Paz’ Pazienza, whose promising career was derailed after a terrible car crash, this also benefits from taking a more low-key approach to the subject, opting to borrow more from the style of David O Russell’s The Fighter than it does the celebratory likes of fictional works such as Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky series or Southpaw.

Pazienza was one of the few American boxers to hold world titles in three different weight categories, who suffered a near-fatal car accident at the peak of his career. Told by doctors he would never walk again, Paz spent months recovering in a neck brace until, against doctors’ orders and without their knowledge, he returned to the gym.

With the support of trainer Kevin Rooney, Pazienza – aka ‘The Pazmanian Devil’ – made a triumphant return to the ring just over a year later.

Miles Teller plays Pazienza and, just as he did in Whiplash, inhabits the role of the boxer: whether it’s his foolhardy ‘in the ring’ bravado to his fierce determination never to throw in the towel, even when the odds seemed insurmountable. It’s an inspiring role without resorting to anything too showy and presents further evidence of why he is such a highly rated young actor.

Aaron Eckhart, meanwhile, plays his coach, Rooney, a washed-up has-been, who once trained Mike Tyson, who comes to view Paz as his ticket back to the big time. Far from using him, though, Rooney becomes a second father-figure… an astute mentor who is as much a part of Paz’s family as his pastel-clad dad (nicely played by Ciaran Hinds), his devout mother (Katey Sagal) or any of his sisters.

Eckhart is almost unrecognisable in the role – half bald, chubby and scruffy. But it’s a passionate performance that, like Teller, wears his heart on his sleeve, making Rooney a hugely endearing figure to be around.

Put together, Teller and Eckhart combine to create a brilliant partnership and one that’s truly worth rooting for.

Elsewhere, Younger – who won widespread acclaim for his earlier film Boiler Room – directs the boxing scenes with a gritty realism that enables you to feel every punch, while maintaining a sense of realism that never allows things to become too Hollywood (it comes as no surprise to find Martin ‘Raging Bull’ Scorsese served as a producer), while his scenes involving Paz’s rehabilitation are tough and often painful – one sequence, in particular, finds Paz removing the pins in his neck brace without any painkilling drugs. It’s as tough as it sounds.

Hence, as familiar as elements of the film certainly are, Bleed For This does what every great boxing movie does: it rises above the sport it represents (and which could be limiting to viewers) to deliver an empowering tale of triumph against the odds that never loses sight of the people who lived through it.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 57mins
UK Release Date: December 2, 2016