Miles Teller plays boxer Vinny Pazienza and Aaron Eckhart his balding potbellied trainer Kevin Rooney in a comeback story for the ages – “Bleed for This.”
He was known as the Pazmanian Devil – a scrappy, loudmouth Italian fighter from Providence, Rhode Island who won world championships in multiple weight classes. But then he broke his neck in a bad auto wreck and was told he would never fight again. He spent three months in hospital bed with a halo screwed into his skull and once released – and against doctors’ orders – he begins to train again in his mom and dad’s basement.
Miles Teller, who dazzled movie audiences in “Whiplash” two years ago, delivers another great performance. And the nearly unrecognizable Eckhart is amazing. The rest of the movie…not so much. The story plods along. The fight scenes are just average. Even the pivotal nearly-deadly car crash doesn’t seem executed with much impact.
Movies like “Bleed for This” always seem to have those obligatory end credit scenes where we see clips of the actual people the actors are portraying. In his case, there’s a clip of Pazienza with his halo on delivering a message to reporters about why the comeback was so vital to who he was as a man. It was a moment that writer/director Ben Younger chose to leave out of his film and I’m not sure why. This is an unbelievably compelling real life story. I mean, the guy had screws in his head and risked paralysis just to box again! But somehow “Bleed for This” emotionally flat lines. It’s boilerplate and boring – and by no fault of its stars. Unlike the subject matter, a thin script and flawed direction is nowhere near that of a champion. By the end I wasn’t rooting for Pazienza. I was cheering that it was over.