A remarkable true-life tale that limps unconvincingly onto the screen, Bleed For This just doesn’t do justice to the never-say-die spirit of boxing comeback king Vinny ‘Paz Man’ Pazienza. The story of a three-weight world champ written off and reborn not once but twice should equal biopic gold, yet somehow – and sadly – it doesn’t quite work out that way. Ben Younger‘s film is earnest and well-intentioned, but its emotional gut punches never land. It’s lightweight.
A good deal of the blame lies with leading man Miles Teller (Whiplash, War Dogs). He’s great to begin with, playing ‘The Pazmanian Devil’ as a brash, earring-wearing playboy with a weakness for fast women, fast cars and the blackjack table. The opening set-piece where he barely makes weight, mocks his next opponent while wearing nothing but leopard-print budgie smugglers and then promptly eats the canvas works a treat. Instantly you’ve got a character to invest in – a blue-collar chancer with the gift of the gab if not (ahem) the gift of the jab.
The problems set in when we get to the two-for-one underdog routine, Pazienza bouncing back from a string of defeats to reclaim gold and then – after a brutal car accident leaves him with a severely broken neck – doing it all over again. Broadly sticking to the boxing movie blueprint is forgivable, Teller failing to properly sell the struggle of a man whose livelihood and reason for living is almost ripped away from him isn’t. His performance in the all-important middle act is flat and unengaging.
The flashy supporting roles produce mixed results too. Aaron Eckhart has his moments as a veteran trainer battling the demon drink, but Ciarán Hinds feels badly miscast as Vinny’s cartoonishly flamboyant old man. Still, at least he gets something to do. The film’s female contingent consists of fraught, almost mute mum Louise (Katey Sagal, completely wasted), a gaggle of unnamed relatives who crowd around the TV on fight night, and a revolving door of disposable, airhead bimbos.