Boxing movies have one theme in common: They are always about the underdog.
“Bleed for This” tells the true story of Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), a boxing champion who returns to the ring after suffering a neck injury. Despite its inspirational story, the movie’s preoccupation with visual flair, lack of dynamic boxing sequences and cookie-cutter narrative style that hits all the stereotypical sports film tropes make for an underwhelming, average film.
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The film begins during a slump in Pazienza’s career as he warms up to a new coach, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), once famous for training Mike Tyson. Although successful under Rooney’s tutelage, Pazienza’s career is interrupted in its prime when his neck breaks in a car accident. Rather than playing it safe and letting his neck heal, the boxer opts to use an unwieldy brace and risk his ability to walk for the chance to fight again. The remainder of the film chronicles Pazienza’s difficult road to redemption.
“Bleed for This” trades substance for style and focuses more on attempting cinematic beauty than creating compelling action. The film establishes an early fondness for long, sweeping pans over its main characters, especially when they are in close proximity to cars.
The technique is an effective aerial view during the fateful car crash; however in other scenes, like the first street pan, it serves no purpose and gets repetitive. This technique is abandoned early on and – considering the pan’s relatively heavy use at the beginning of the film – would have been better if this type of shot was spaced out throughout the film. Its conspicuous absence makes the film’s visual style disjointed.
Rapid cuts between extreme close-ups of inanimate objects, like clocks and bells, and characters’ faces is another stylistic preoccupation that pervades throughout the film. While this technique could have been effective in small doses to help illustrate the action of the scene and the characters’ reactions, it occurs too often and for too long, diminishing its effectiveness.
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Far worse than the film’s stylistic flaws is its lackluster content. The film has several unnecessary scenes of female nudity both in strip clubs and hotel rooms. The scenes add nothing significant to the film and do little more than demonstrate a “because we can” mentality. Rather than artistic, the film’s nudity is crass and distasteful – an oversexualized depiction of women’s bodies that does nothing to further the plot.
“Bleed for This” is a boxing film that doesn’t know how to be a boxing film. The film gets bogged down in training montages and fails to deliver the payoff of seeing Pazienza actually fight despite the three boxing matches in the film.
The entire narrative builds up to the climax of Pazienza’s comeback fight, yet when the moment comes, a majority of the scene is a succession of jarring cuts between close-ups of objects in the arena and crowd reactions with little actual boxing action. “Bleed for This” is the movie equivalent of click-bait – the filmmakers promise an interesting clash of titans but present a dull montage of reaction shots.
Since the film is based on actual events, it should have been relatively easy to recreate the fights, especially since the studio used real clips of Pazienza fighting in the training scenes. The absence of action in favor of artsy camerawork removes the potential for authenticity. The audience has no way to judge if Pazienza is a good fighter or if his split-decision victory in the climactic fight was the result of a pity vote.
For all the effort the film puts into emphasizing the drama of Pazienza’s story rather than the sports action, the character development is surprisingly lacking. Vinny Pazienza’s father, Angelo Pazienza (Ciarán Hinds), is one of the three characters with the most screen time yet has little definition other than that he is loud, aggressive and Italian. Vinny Pazienza’s mother, Louise Pazienza (Katey Sagal), fills two stereotypical tropes: the woman who can’t watch her child get hurt in the ring and the ultra-religious Catholic mother.
The only depth to trainer Kevin is his struggle with alcoholism, which seems to have been included as an afterthought. Initial tension between the father and trainer over Vinny Pazienza’s professional direction is abandoned early on, leaving the audience to wonder why it was included in the first place and how the two men resolved their differences.
Rightfully, the character with the most depth is Vinny Pazienza; however, the film moves him in so many directions that it is hard to discern how the director wants the audience to view him. At first, he is presented as the irreverent bad boy who shows up late to his weigh-in wearing nothing more than his underwear.
Later on, he is portrayed as the humble family man and good boyfriend, yet he blows money at casinos or slinks into strip clubs when he feels bad about himself. Although intended to demonstrate Vinny Pazienza’s internal turmoil and multifaceted personality, these scenes come across as gratuitous self-pity and feel as though they were included just because the film got an R rating.
Many times, his decision to risk his safety for the chance of being able to fight again is called into question, making it unclear whether the audience is supposed to admire Pazienza for his determination or chide him for the danger he puts himself in.
As far as sports stories go, Vinny Pazienza’s is as inspirational as they come: the hero recovers from an injury and risks his ability to move to come out on top. Unfortunately, “Bleed for This” is more concerned with its own artistic flair than the world of boxing it is trying to depict, resulting in bland characters and disappointing fight scenes.