They broke the mold when they created Vincent Pazienza.
A tough and gritty fighter from Providence, "The Pazmanian Devil" didn't know what quitting meant or how it was done. He was wired to fight relentlessly for his life not only inside the boxing ring but outside of it as well. As the great fictional boxing folk hero Rocky Balboa once said, "Nobody hits as hard as life." Ben Younger's new film is a true authentic boxing masterpiece, and is aided by the Oscar worthy performances of Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart.
When it comes to boxing films and Hollywood, the comeback ingredient is often overused. A rough and tumble young individual fights for money and fame against all odds, gets knocked down a few times, and makes his way back. It's a comeback story framed around a physical sport that electrifies its audience. You've seen it a thousand times. All of those cliches and plot threads are present in "Bleed for This." The difference is that in this film, those cliches and threads are all real and based on a true story. All of which you see in this amazing and heartfelt film really happened.
The first scene of the movie grabs your attention. Paz is desperately trying to make 140 pounds for his title fight against Roger Mayweather. While he loses the battle, the war in himself is won by his ability to make weight. Younger's films goes behind the scenes as much as it goes in front of it. This is crucial to getting Pazienza's story right.
After a move up in weight and a big win, Paz breaks his neck in a terrible car wreck. Instead of quitting, Paz wants to make a comeback. Instead of getting a spinal fusion, Paz opts for the painful halo to be screwed into his head for his recovery. Slowly but surely, Paz's comeback trek is set. Trust me, there's so much more but why give it away.
Vinny Paz's story doesn't need embellishment, which is something Hollywood can't help itself with when bringing a true story to the big screen. You can't take the cinematic out of a movie no matter how true the story is, but "Bleed for This" is an exception to that rule. It bleeds authenticity, real visceral action, and performances that can't be talked about enough.
As Paz told me this summer, he isn't an easy guy to portray and Teller doesn't just make an attempt to impersonate the guy. He climbs inside his skin and becomes Paz. It's not a performance where you commend the makeup artist and the handpicked role selection. Teller will blow you away as a fighter who didn't stop. To Paz, the bell never rung. You just kept fighting. Teller embraces the colorful character that Paz was while dialing in perfectly to his vulnerabilities and stone cold will power to come back from the highest form of adversity. If Teller isn't in the discussion for an Oscar, something is wrong. It's a true performance that doesn't carry an ounce of fakeness.
Eckhart is a revelation as Paz's trainer, Kevin Rooney. A man who rescued himself when he rescued Pazienza's career in the late 1980s. He was a drunk at the end of his rope before Pazienza came to him about helping his own career. Eckhart changed his entire look to become Rooney, but it's the hard boiled scenes between him and Teller that really connect. Two men who needed each other and stuck by each other's side no matter the odds. With an extra large gut, baldness, and Catskill accent, Eckhart goes for broke here.
The supporting cast is money. From Ciaran Hinds heartbreaking portrayal of Angelo Pazienza to Katey Sagal's strong work as his mother, Louise. Ted Levine's Lou Duva is a treat, as the seasoned actor really digs deep to play Pazienza's manager and the guy who helped land Pazienza's comeback fight with Roberto Duran. This is the rare film where you couldn't point at an actor and say someone else could have played that role just as good. It's impeccable casting.
Younger spares no details in or out of the ring. Much like his subject, Younger isn't afraid of alienating his audience by giving them a dose of realism. Seeing the screws being sunk into Paz's skull is gut wrenching, but I'm glad Younger chose to leave the entire scene in. Scenes at home with the uneasiness between Angelo and Kevin are required as well. Paz's story is messy and wild, but inspiring to say the least.
This film will help people who have suffered a crippling injury. Now, will their doctors like hearing that they tried to lift a barbell with a halo attached to their head? Probably not. The true juice of "Bleed for This" and Vinny's story is the spirit uplift it provides. Sports films reviews are always based on the physical action and visual skill set on display. With this film, it's the internal boost that hangs with you after the theater.
See this film. I implore you to take the time. If you are a boxing fan, it will enthrall you. If you are a casual film lover, it will answer that old question. Do these amazing sports comeback stories actually take place and is it all real? The answer is a resounding yes.
"Bleed for This" could have stuck to the ring action and still been a worthy visit. Instead, it went for the uncomfortable yet powerful back story. It takes you on a tour through Vinny Paz's life instead of merely brushing a stroke over his career.
I can't say enough good things about this film. It got to me and met over the top expectations.
If you need a true authentic boxing tale with some real punching power, place your bets on "Bleed for This."