Bleed for This is the kind of film every actor ends up doing, requiring months of physical training and working on an accent, in this case that of the archetypal Italian-American. Here is the first indication that Scorsese has something to do with the movie, set in Providence, Rhode Island. Director Ben Younger constructs a superb juxtaposition of sound and visuals that flawlessly bring this boxing legend to life.
Immediately thrown into one of the many heated moments during Vinnie Pazienza’s career, as the close-up camera shots evoke the intended effects, the audience is already rooting for the “Pazmanian Devil”. Half an hour into the film Pazienza is already in a situation which would usually be the main plot line of the customary apparition of hurdles, the confrontation of them and finally the overcoming of them. The choice of Teller to portray Pazienza is an interesting one, having experienced a car crash himself. Not unlike prior films such as The Spectacular Now and Whiplash, the role of Vinnie requires him to re-live an all too familiar brutal situation. The effects of the car crash are critical, doctors conclude that the road to recovery is going to be along and gruelling one. Lying still and patched up in a hospital bed, Pazienza asks “When will I be able to fight again?”, only to be met with the pitifully toned doctor’s diagnosis that he “can’t say for sure that you’ll be able to walk again”. The medieval contraption he is presented with is somewhat ironically called a “halo”, consisting of a circular piece of metal and no less than four metal bolts screwed into his skull.
Even if the ending is predictable, what keeps the audience hooked is the simple fact that this is a true story. Teller’s performance is demonstrative of his capacity to evolve and flourish as an empowering male lead. Matched to this level of talent is the surprisingly well-cast role of Aaron Eckhart as Pazienza’s trainer Kevin, a role which showcases Eckhart’s versatility as an actor. The relationship between Vinnie and Kevin finds its balance in the mutual understanding that the only worthwhile outcome of this ordeal is to accept that quitting boxing is no life for Vinnie. Carefully starting up training again surreptitiously in the household’s basement under the nose of his father played by the gifted Ciaran Hinds (starred as Julius Caesar in the Rome BBC miniseries), he eventually discovers their covert actions, and is initially deeply hurt, that his “Champ” is now forced to lie and risk everything for the one and only way he knows how to live — to be a boxer. Pazienza’s Father brings the true essence of the Scorsese elements to the film, alongside the overtly religious Italian-American housewife.
It is almost as frustrating for the viewer as it is for Pazienza to have gone through the pain and effort to get to his healed physical status and, of course, finding that no one is willing to risk being the person “who put Vinnie Paz back in hospital”. Younger portrays Vinnie’s comeback to perfection, making an ending that is already known into a euphoric triumph that rightly situates Bleed for This amongst other great boxing movies, maybe not as an equal, but a definite addition to the amalgam.
Where there are subtle flaws in the lack of depth to the script, this biopic is not about a complicated situation, in the sense that our main protagonist is faced with circumstances in which he must give or lose everything — as Pazienza puts it, “it’s that simple”.
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