I like boxing movies because as much as I enjoy the idea of the deadly and beautiful dance of two people hitting each other competitively, the real thing makes me squirm.
It’s hard to point a finger at why movies like Ben Younger’s Bleed For This don’t especially work. It’s a well cast – Miles Teller, Ciarin Hinds, Aaron Eckhart, etc. – well-filmed movie based on the slightly unbelievable story of Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza. Mr. Pazienza was a boxer in the 80s, whose career was fading before he jumped two weight classes (thanks to the help of former Tyson trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart). After winning a belt of some sort (for a competition based around two people hitting each other until one person falls down, boxing is mighty confusing), Pazienza ended up in a car accident with a broken neck and told that he wouldn’t box again. He refused to believe that and trained himself back into fighting shape. So, that’s the film, give or take. And, honestly, that’s a pretty robust, Oscar worthy story with a whole buttload of amazing actors fronting it. So why doesn’t it work? Part of it is, sadly, Teller, who puts on a good show but is miscast. Pazienza was a boxer in the fading twilight of his life, Teller looks like a Harvard freshmen who dropped English to hang out at the boxing gym. The performance itself is strong, but Teller’s looks downplay the experience the character needs. But at least Teller has a character, the rest of the assorted “team” with Pazienza are cardboard cut-outs – the drunken boxing coach, the overbearing dad, the religious mom, etc. – an though the actors do what they can to ensure that the characters live off the screen, they don’t have much to do except exist as sounding boards for Teller’s “sports quotes”, which there many. It’s a bigger problem than just Teller and the characters though, the film about a man with so much heart he wills himself to succeed has very little heart. Teller’s character, who clearly loves boxing, has nothing else in his life except for a parade of faceless women and his Rhode Island family, but there’s no real explanation of why. Sure, it’s the only thing he’s ever known, but again, why? Director Ben Younger never seeks to find out, instead making a well lit, paint-by-numbers boxing film with a brief detour into a story of recovery. It isn’t hard to digest as it looks great and again, the characters (especially Aaron Eckhart), are all well acted, it just doesn’t have much flavor.
One Last Thought:
Is it weird that the entire time I watched this film I thought, “Man, I bet these people voted for Trump.”