A few months ago, I reviewed a film called Hands of Stone, which was the story of Hall of Fame boxer Roberto Duran. While Roberto Duran had a great story to tell, the film, however, failed to convey an entertaining story about one of the greatest boxers of all time.
Here we are three months later and we have another boxing biopic based on the life of Vincenzo ‘Vinny’ Pazienza called Bleed for This. Vinny Pazienza was a prolific boxer in the mid-80s who won titles at three different weight classes. Riding high in the prime of his career, a severe car accident put his career and his life in danger. Refusing doctors’ orders, Vinny continues to train for a return to the ring and makes an incredible comeback to the sport 13 months after being told he would never walk again. Once again, Hollywood has the opportunity to bring an amazing story in the world of boxing to life and this time they rely on Miles Tiller to get the job done. Many people have their issues with Teller but they don’t have much to worry about this time around.
The film begins in the late 1980s where Vinny is struggling to make weight for his light Welterweight bout with Roger Mayweather. The opening sequence is presented to show Vinny’s cockiness and stubbornness when it comes to how he prepares for his fights. After a loss to Mayweather and a hospital visit due to severe dehydration. Pazienza decides to refocus his efforts by enlisting the help of Kevin Rooney, a famed boxing trainer, and owner of the world’s worst hairline. Rooney decides that in order to save his career, Pazienza must move up two weight classes to avoid weight cut issues and resurrect his career. Pazienza is awarded a title fight and pulls off an incredible upset to win the light-middleweight championship. With everything going his way, Pazienza decides to undertake in his second passion…gambling. But on his way, his life takes a turn for the worst as a broken neck suffered in a car crash may force him to hang up his gloves for good.
With every biopic, you have to ask, how accurate is the film to real life? The answer is, while the events in Vinny’s life are true, the film takes liberty with the timeline to tell a more dramatic story. The film makes it seem like the events happened more quickly in the film than it actually did. Vinny wasn’t awarded a title fight in his first go at Light middleweight, in fact, he lost two earlier opportunities at the title before getting the job done three years later. Many of Vinny’s fights were omitted so they could focus on three fights in the film which I’ll get to later. The focus of the story is more about Vinny’s road to recovery not his accomplishments inside the ring. For much of the movie, Miles Teller sports a full halo brace after a head-on collision steals his career. Doctors told him that he may not even walk again let alone fight. His doctors recommend a spinal fusion surgery, but being as stubborn as he is, Pazienza refuses all medical and family advice to get back inside the ring. His determination to continue his dream is actually inspiring and provides the emotional drive for the film. Pazienza is an arrogant cocky fighter who career was going well so without this part of the story, it would be difficult to connect with a guy who spends more time in a strip club or a poker table than his family home.
Film production took place on location in Rhode Island, the atmosphere of a small town boy and his family feels authentic. Director Ben Younger puts a lot of detail into Pazienza’s family and his Rhode Island upbringing. His father was his manager, his sister and neighborhood friends were always in support of him and his mother refused to watch his fights praying that her son would be ok. As far as the acting goes, while the performances are good, it isn’t anything special. Miles Teller does a good enough portrayal of the boxing legend but that’s as far as it goes. Many characters try too hard to sell an Italian accent and their efforts feel by the numbers for the most part. Another decision I found odd was the choice to add in real life footage of Pazienza’s fights and interviews into the film. Not only do they not make the effort to cleverly film Teller in these bits but it jarring to see the real life Pazienza doing an interview with Jay Leno while not looking or sounding like Teller’s portrayal. Vinny’s comeback boxing match is against…wait for it…Roberto Duran. The same Duran who was the focus of Hands of Stone just three months ago. The film hypes the fight as Vinny’s big return to the ring for the title but he actually had 6 fights prior to his matchup with Duran. Also, they make the movie version of the fight more competitive than it actually was to tell a better story. Even though the real Vinny Pazienza claims they didn’t take any liberties with the story, clearly there are some disparities that are easily spotted but to be fair, their portrayal of Duran was better than Edgar Ramirez.
Bleed For This is a solid biopic based on one of the greatest comeback stories in boxing history. The film isn’t the most historically accurate but it is authentic to the real life story of Vinny Pazienza’s road to redemption. Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart carried the majority of the film which leads to much of the star cast feeling criminally underused. While it’s much better than Hands of Stone, I think any comparison to Raging Bull is silly and undeserved. If you love boxing movies, strip clubs, and Rhode Island; Bleed for This is the film for you. A middle of the row boxing biopic that worth a look but not necessarily a must see.