Bleed For This is based on the true story of Vinny Pazienza, as played by Miles Teller. Having had difficulty making his weight for his Lightweight bouts, world champion boxer Vinny ends up in hospital with severe dehydration, and decides to move up a weight. However, shortly after becoming only the second person to become the world Junior Middleweight champ after being a Lightweight champion, he’s involved in a serious car accident which breaks his neck.
The doctors don’t know whether he will ever walk again, but Vinny insists they fit him with a large metal halo in the hope that not only will he regain full function, but his neck will recover enough that he will be able to fight. Although those around him feel he should give up boxing, he is determined to get back in the ring. With a single-minded drive he strives to get back to full fitness, and to take a shot at another world championship belt.
It may be a true story, with the film being billed as being about the greatest sports comeback of all time, but as that synopsis suggests, it’s not exactly something we haven’t seen before. Story-wise, it hits pretty much all the plot points you’d expect, and its them square on with few surprises or things to make it stand out.
That wouldn’t be fatal on its own, but while Miles Teller puts in a good performance, he’s rather hamstrung by a script that makes his character pretty annoying. Vinny’s determination to get back in the ring could have been inspirational, but in Bleed For This, he comes across as a bit of a dick before, during and after his accident. Part of the problem is that the movie never quite works out a good reason for why risking death or permanent paralysis by getting back in the ring is a good idea. In fact, it makes the whole thing seem rather selfish.
That’s underlined during the final moments when Vinny is talking about how he did it, where his words suggest he’s someone who doesn’t really care about other people’s feelings, and which ignore the fact that things could have turned out incredibly differently. In fact, there’s almost an edge of irresponsibility to how the film presents the story. In its desire to say you should follow your dreams and fight for what you want, it rather ignores the possible repercussions of what it’s talking about, and that while it worked out this time, for others it would have been the stupidest thing they could have possibly done (something even Pazienza himself hints at during one of the featurettes). That’s equally true for the disdain it shows for anyone who cares about his physical wellbeing, presenting it as selfishness and cowardice on their part that they won’t help a man possibly kill himself – the assholes.
There are vast amounts of potential in the story, and with more depth and finesse it could have been a great film. However, rather like Pazienza, it has a single-minded determination to tell its story in a particular, over-simplistic way. As a result, it ends up being more tedious than inspirational, while verging on being morally reckless.
Boxing fans may enjoy it, as it certainly fits with the legend of Pazienza – a legend that is often told like a fairytale, ignoring the messiness of real life – but others may quickly start to smell that they’re being sold something that ignores a lot of awkward questions. And by ignoring them, Bleed For This ends up being more annoying and at times boring than it really should have been.
Overall Verdict: An incredible true story is given such a standard inspirational biopic treatment, that it results in a more movie that far duller and more morally hollow than it should have been.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac