If you’re asked to do a list of the greatest sports movies of all time, you may as well make it a boxing list. Even for someone like myself who has little love for the sport, I can’t help but be pulled in by the character strengths that they flaunt, often portraying zero to hero tails of courage, bravery and sheer grit and determination all in the name of sport. It’s a difficult genre to top when you set out to make a boxing movie knowing too well the likes of Rocky and Raging Bull will stand as your comparison, but when there’s a story like that of Vinny Pazienza, touted by many as the greatest boxing come back of all time, then it needs retelling.
Pazienza’s tale is one of fame after the somewhat successful boxer suffered an almost fatal car accident that left him with a broken neck and doctor’s telling him that he may never walk again. Not only did he walk, but while having a surgical halo attached to his skull, he began training again and was able to recover to box again. Fortunately for director Ben Younger, this one directs itself.
Miles Teller plays Pazienza with all the Providence charm of the real man, banana hammock and all, and it truly is a stellar performance. Teller has been circling stardom for a while now but it’s still going to take a few more performances like this. By no means it it Oscar worthy, but these character driven dramas ride on his performance and in this case (though Bleed for This doesn’t need much help) he makes it a good film. Surrounding him are also some decent performances from Aaron Eckhart as his trainer Kevin Rooney and Ciaran Hinds as his Vinny’s dad, who together have a constant rumbling as the two male role models in Vinny’s life. A subtle yet very understated part of the film.
Now, if this is the greatest boxing story of all time, is it the greatest boxing movie of all time. That’s a categorical no. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s lacking in Bleed for This, as it has the strong central performance that carries most of the film, but otherwise it does appear to lack the emotional punch that really helps you connect with the story. Other than a few squirmish moments as Vinny maneuvers his way around with his halo that help you understand his pain, there’s nothing that makes you really empathise with his struggle. His drive and determination shines constantly and you get a sense that the man was indeed something special, but it needed to really delve into the emotional heartache that is so clearly present a little more.
Otherwise, Bleed for This won’t stand at the top of the pile of boxing movies, but simply for sharing this story with the masses it deserves to be remembered. The opening weigh in scene alone is a great piece of entertainment as Vinny attempts to shed the last few pounds in order to be legible to fight, and that alone gives you everything you need to know about this guy that never gives up. Unfortunately here Paz, you’ll have to settle knowing you won’t be the greatest.