“Some hits, you don’t have to take.”
That time of year is here again, boys and girls. It’s “based on a true story” season. That time of year where we are all forced to sit and watch as many and varied true stories that are paraded out in front us to stare at, mope over and guess which one will be winning an award for its excellent depiction of a story no-one ever heard of before release weekend.
This week, it’s the story of boxer Vinny Pazienza.
A local hero and world champion boxer, Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza (Miles Teller) has dragged himself up from being a stepping stone to a card-carrying, belt-wielding force to be reckoned with in the ring. But it all seems to be over when a near fatal car crash leaves the fighter with a broken neck and no guarantee he’ll ever walk again.
But an inspirational story, such as this, can’t end there.
Vinny refuses surgery that would guarantee his mobility, but destroy his career, in favour of wearing a surgically fitted “halo” (essentially scaffolding for his head) in the hope that once healed he can train again and get himself back in the ring. After a torturous few months living like an invalid in his parents living room, Paz starts working on getting himself back in fighting shape in secret. Dragging in his trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) to help, the pair turn the basement into a makeshift gym to work while Vinny is still wearing his headgear. Once out of his halo, the former champion works to get his arse back in the ring.
We’ve had a couple of really good boxing movies the last few years, from Creed and Southpaw last year covering the fictional side of things, to 2010’s The Fighter covering the true story side.
And honestly, all of those films are better than this one.
The opening scene for this film sets the poor tone as we watch Vinny spend all of thirty seconds trying to cut weight for his next fight, only for the crowd to be insanely happy when he does. The dramatic music kicks in, the crowd applauds and we are clearly supposed to be super-pumped that he’s able to fight. Problem is, I don’t even know who this guy is yet. The film tries to manufacture that “Rocky wins the fight” feeling in its audience without even introducing the character to us (or showing him fighting). He then montages himself to victory without anything close to a moment to make me care about him.
And it doesn’t really improve after that.
Maybe I am just a callous motherfucker, but nothing here got any kind of emotional response from me. The car accident and subsequent surgeries, the suffering, nothing really makes me want to see this man succeed. And it’s not because I don’t like the guy, it’s because the film hasn’t yet given me the opportunity to even get to know him. I mean, I care more about his parents (played very well by Kathy Sagel and Ciarán Hinds) and his trainer than I do about him because the movie just doesn’t seem to want to tell me about him. I’m just supposed to care, and cheer, and applaud, just because he’s a boxer? No.
Teller’s performance doesn’t help either. I don’t think he’s a good actor anyway, but here he’s not convincing as a fighter, or a man in pain, or a man crippled by life events he had no control over. I mean, this should be a simple thing to communicate to its audience, but neither Teller nor writer/director Ben Younger (who wrote and directed the awesome Boiler Room) seem to know how to put this across to those of us watching.
Eckhart, on the other hand, is the best part of this film. His insane portrayal of Vinny’s trainer Kevin Rooney comes across like a bizarre mash up of TV actors and characters, playing like The Wire‘s Domenick Lombardozzi is channeling Tony Soprano for most of the film. He is definitely the part of the film that’s the most watchable, as little praise as that may actually be.
Younger’s direction is perfectly fine, but it fails to bring drama to any of the areas that it really should. Boxing matches feel short and lifeless, with no real focus on the sport what so ever. While training montages and periods of quiet drama just don’t emote any feeling for the characters involved. It feels like it’s been put together by a committee that watched the great history of boxing films and tried to just put the bits they thought were best into one film.
Essentially it’s a greatest hits of boxing movie moments with little or no context to get you engaged. Considering both last year’s entries into this genre left me a blubbery mess by the end, I expected the same here. What I got instead was a tired, fidgety arse and an overwhelming shrug of the shoulders as people asked if I liked it.
Disappointment at every level. That’s pretty much how I felt about Bleed for This.