He went 15 rounds in the stunning 1975 heavyweight world championship against the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali, and ultimately inspired the billion-dollar Rocky franchise. No, not Andrew Brooker, but the guy in the film he’s written about…
For those that don’t know who Chuck Wepner is, here’s a quick history lesson for you:
He was a professional boxer between 1964 and 1978, with 17 of his 34 victories coming by knockout. It is widely believed, mainly by Chuck himself, that his underdog story of ‘the man that was only a few seconds shy of going a full 15 rounds with the legendary Muhammad Ali’ was the inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky screenplay.
So of course, he needs a film all of his own.
Liev Schreiber plays Chuck, fondly known as “The Bayonne Bleeder” in his home town, in this biographical drama about the boxer who eventually came to sue Stallone for using his story when he ran out of money and started calling himself “The Real Rocky”. With his long suffering, much cheated on wife Phyliss (Elizabeth Moss) in tow, it’s a tale of two parts. The first half is the story of his lucky rise to fame with his coach, played by Ron Perlman in bad makeup, pushing for a once in a lifetime opportunity to fight Ali. Chosen for the match because “they want a white guy”, which is about as low a bar as you can set for your challenger, Chuck wastes little time in his Catskills based training and instead goes straight into the match he was destined to lose. A little bit of clever camerawork later and we have a very short recreation of the fight.
Following on with much more attention paid to it is the shoddily made argument that Stallone stole Chuck’s life story. There’s a new wife in the form of Naomi Watts as Linda, and a singular interesting scene with Chuck trying to act his way into Rocky II opposite Morgan Specter’s almost caricature-like Sly. In fact, it feels like the film’s producers – that includes star Liev Schreiber – have spent so much money licensing the audio and poster art for the original Rocky, that they had to drop to real Tesco Value levels of pap for the Stallone performance.
In fairness to director Philippe Falardeau, he does try to tell an interesting story. The tale of someone who had a prizefighting career as a sidebar to his liquor sales business, who gets thrown into the media spotlight fighting the biggest name in the world (still!) is one worth telling.
If we had stuck with that, and not the Rocky nonsense, The Bleeder would have been much more watchable. The biggest surprise here is not just the lower quality, but how low that quality is considering it’s simply bulging with some top-end talent from the B-List. Perlman, Schreiber, Moss and Watts have all been mentioned. But we also have Michael Rapaport and Pooch Hall in the mix too. It’s a shame that everyone seems to be trying, but the end result is still a little… hammy. It tries very hard but the end result is more akin to two locals wrestling in jelly at the Bournemouth fair than it is a heavyweight prizefighting contender.
In the scheme of things, where Rocky, Raging Bull and The Fighter are the cream of this crop, The Bleeder is down there with One More Round and Bleed for This.
Although not Brooker’s cup of tea, you can pick up The Bleeder presented by Lionsgate UK on DVD, Blu-ray & Digital now.