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Review: Bleed for This – “Truly great, fresh take on the boxing movie”

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(Left to right) Ciaran Hinds, Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart in BLEED FOR THIS. Photo credit:  Seacia Pavao	/ Distributor:  Open Road Films

Bleed for This is written and directed by Ben Younger (Boiler Room) and tells the true story of boxer Vinny Pazienza. Miles Teller stars as Vinny, alongside Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy) and Ted Levine (The Silence of the Lambs).

Vinny Pazienza is a boxer with a lot of heart, but a big head and a stubborn streak that, combined with his defences down brawler boxing style, sees him lose three fights in a row and have his trainer declare on live TV that he shouldn’t box anymore. Annoyed and undeterred, Vinny turns to washed up trainer Kevin Rooney (Eckhart) who used to train Mike Tyson but now has a paunch, drinking problem and no hair. Eckhart is near-unrecognisable in the role and having made the physical changes in real life, as well as playing a character struggling to overcome his demons is virtually deservedly guaranteed an Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actor.

Vinny and Rooney have both been counted out but they decide to put Vinny up two weight classes and prove themselves to everyone. And that they do, heavier and with some newfound defence and footwork, Vinny now floats like a butterfly and stings like a sledgehammer. His penchant for showboating means he doesn’t make it easy for himself, but he wins his comeback match and the world title. Everything is going great and Vinny goes for a drive in his buddy’s new sports car – but they are sickeningly struck head-on by another car and Vinny wakes up in hospital on a spinal board with a broken neck.

The doctors say Vinny may never walk again – let alone fight – but instead of settling for that and agreeing to let them fuse his spine, Vinny has a metal halo screwed into his head and must not move for six months or risk severing his spinal column. Again everyone but Vinny thinks it’s all over. Exhibiting the often painful never-quit determination we saw from Teller in Whiplash too, he secretly begins weightlifting in his parents basement in the middle of the night.

Teller plays Vinny as a likeable wanker who would literally rather re-break his neck than not make another comeback and it is impossible to not be in his corner cheering for him throughout. Rooney feels the same and after discovering what Vinny is up to agrees to train him again. It is an incredibly inspirational story told with great style by Ben Younger. He surrounds his leads with some fine character actors like Sagal, Levine and Ciarán Hinds, and tells Vinny’s story in a style that undercuts and uppercuts played out boxing movie tropes. Scenes like a cool guys slow motion walk to a rap song are turned on their head to provide laughs and sparks, and he also intercuts some archive TV footage of the real people and events. Instead of being jarring, this lends authenticity and shows just how good Teller’s Pazienza performance is.

Between this and Whiplash it is clear that Miles Teller is something special. He really goes the distance in this truly great, fresh take on the boxing movie, that has a stand on your chair punching the air feel-good finale.

4-out-of-5

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