2016 BFI London Film Festival Review: ‘Bleed For This’

October 17, 2016 Updated: October 17, 2016

Stylistically and narratively, a boxing movie needs to do something special during the early rounds in order to avoid a standing count and audience apathy. “Bleed For This” has the advantage of being a remarkable true story that’s so unbelievable you’d think a group of suits had thought it up at a committee meeting, and therein lies the problem, because everything about Ben Younger’s film is so familiar and unremarkable.

Defeated thanks to his own unrestrained, impatient fighting style, Vinny “Pazman” Pazienza (Miles Teller) is on a hat-trick of defeats, his stock falling below a decent payday, and seemingly abandoned by the sports PR men. Trawling out stock dialogue such as “give me another shot,” his father (Ciaran Hinds) sends him to train with washed up corner man Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), who used to shape Mike Tyson, before one too many DUIs took their toll.

So far, so “Rocky.” “Bleed For This” finds its angle after Vinny’s triumphant return to the ring, when he’s being driven in his car and is involved in a head on collision. He’s left with his head hanging out the passenger side window, and wakes to be told that the doctors believe he might never walk again, let alone fight. Not one to make rational decisions, in or out of the ring, Vinny chooses to have a halo screwed into his skull rather than surgery that would guarantee zero paralysis, but mean he’ll never fight again. Convinced he’s nothing without boxing, and reluctantly coached by Rooney, Pazienza starts out on a remarkable journey to try and return to the ring.

Timing is everything in this sport, so it’s a shame that this has arrived in a year in which we’ve already had the undisputed champ in “Creed,” meaning that the best this can hope for is an undercard ranking alongside the similarly underwhelming Jake Gyllenhaal starrer, “Southpaw.” Much like that film, this is quite montage heavy, meaning that you never really sense the pain, you don’t for a minute get the feeling that Pazienza is bleeding for this.

The pivotal crash doesn’t pack much of a punch, and his recovery is condensed into such a short amount of time that the weight of the struggle doesn’t really register. It’s only the odd time he bangs his halo on the roof of a car that you’ll wince in pain, and that’s mainly played for laughs.

So it’s down to the performances to maintain intrigue, and in that respect Miles Teller continues to carve a reputation as one of the most interesting actors working in film. He maintains the same cocksure attitude that’s served him well in the questionable frat movies he’s made, but after “Whiplash” there’s vulnerability too, and he uses both aspects of these personas to ensure Vinny is worth rooting for. Aaron Eckhart takes some clippers to his hair and adds paunch, but his character spouts too many clichés, and what little development occurs in throwaway snippets.

It would be damning with faint praise to call it solid, but with underwhelming fight scenes and a true story that had the potential to rival “Million Dollar Baby,” that’s as good as the score card is going to get.