L-R: Ciaran Hinds, Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart in “Bleed for This”; Seacia Pavao/Open Road Films(NEW YORK) — As a teenager, I loved boxing, particularly the series of fights between Vinny Pazienza and Greg Haugen. I didn’t like Pazienza but I loved Haugen. Those fights were epic, great theater. I was hoping to learn a little bit about that rivalry in Bleed for This. Instead, I had to settle for very good theater, without a familiar story.
When I first heard Miles Teller was going to play Paz, as he’s now called, I just didn’t see it. They look nothing alike and Teller is much, much, taller and longer. In the end, it doesn’t matter because Teller is a terrific actor who becomes the Vinny Pazienza of Bleed for This.
Let’s forget about how the movie is revisionist, as far as whom Paz fights for what at title, and when. It’s not accurate. What is accurate is Paz’s charisma, determination and indomitable spirit. When we meet him, he’s a lightweight who’s been fighting way under his natural weight. It takes a toll and he winds up losing a fight, mostly because he was dehydrated, an unhealthy habit he developed in an effort to make weight before a fight.
Pazienza gets a second life when legendary trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhardt), who’s having his own issues, agrees to train Vinny and convinces the pugilist to move up two classes and fight at his natural weight. When it proves to be a successful strategy, Paz is suddenly a boxing champion again and the future looks bright.
Then Paz breaks his neck in a horrible accident and is told not only that he may never walk again, he definitely won’t box again. But Paz isn’t having it. Instead of undergoing surgery, he opts for a metal halo brace, which is screwed into his skull and stabilizes his neck. With Kevin’s help, unbeknownst to his family, he starts training in his parents’ basement.
Teller and Eckhardt make for a terrific team. Eckhardt is underrated as a character actor. Here, he’s mostly bald and sporting a pot belly, while Teller gets himself into the best shape of his career. As powerful as Eckhardt is, director Ben Younger allows Teller to shine.
This is an unconventional boxing story that sells out a bit by playing with history, but it gives us enough gritty realism from the cast and camera work to make Bleed For This a solid boxing flick.
Three-and-a-half out of five stars.
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