Review: Bleed For This (TIFF 2016)
PLOT: The true story of boxer Vinny Paz (Miles Teller) who, against his doctors orders, fought to defend his title a mere nine months after a car accident that left him with a broken neck.
REVIEW: More than ever, the boxing picture has proven to be a right of passage for young actors, allowing them to prove their macho bona-fides. More often than not they totally transform their bodies in an attempt to emulate De Niro in RAGING BULL or Stallone in ROCKY. Last year, Jake Gyllenhaal did it with SOUTHPAW and now Miles Tellers having his turn with BLEED FOR THIS, which has the added cachet of counting Martin Scorsese as one of its executive producers.
Its certainly an impressive achievement for Teller, who seems to be trying to change his image as the brash Paz, with his physical transformation as impressive as any in recent memory. Bulked-up in a way that will shock those who know him mostly as seemingly mild indie lead, its the kind of performance that proves Tellers the real deal, despite some dodgy press and vehicles like FANTASTIC FOUR (which no one could have salvaged). /p>
A loud, impossibly confident figure, Paz is different than the kind of boxer we usually see in movies like this. Hes neither a self-destructive freight-train nor is he an underdog in the mold of Rocky Balboa (or to a lesser extent - Adonis Creed as played by his former co-star Michael B. Jordan). Hes more of an average guy, being far from the dumb mug you might expect, but also a twitchy wiseguy whod rather gamble the night before a match than get some shut-eye.
Ben Youngers (BOILER ROOM) film traces him from the beginning of his training with former Mike Tyson coach Kevin Rooney (a bald and potbellied Aaron Eckhart) which comes after a series of losses as a Lightweight, through his accident to his attempted comeback, where hes pitted against Roberto Duran, who just got his own biopic with HANDS OF STONE.
Like another TIFF title, THE BLEEDER, the boxing is secondary, with it mostly being a character study, not just for Paz but also for his eccentric family, which includes Katey Sagal as his constantly praying mother. Eckhart is a star in his own right here, with Rooney shown to be an over-the-hill alcoholic whos brought back from the brink by being welcomed into Pazs home. Its a nice character part for him, although the phoniness of his shaved back hairline is distracting. As far as playing against type goes, no one does more so than Belfast-born Ciaran Hinds, as Pazs flamboyant Italian father, who goes from milking his sons career for all its worth, to being consumed with worry for his son as he fights to make his comeback. It could have easily been a cartoonish part, but Hinds gives it some genuine gravitas. Ted Levine also has a nice turn as one of Pazs more unscrupulous managers, with this being one of the few boxing films to give some attention to the actual business side of the sport.
A little research on Paz shows that some facts might have been messaged a bit, but no matter. Even still, its a good fight-yarn even if it lacks the style of CREED or the unexpected uplift of THE BLEEDER. Teller, Eckhart and HInds are all excellent and Younger has a good handle on the material, making this a solid fight flick in the vein of THE FIGHTER. Even if youre sick to death of boxing movies (who could blame you?) this is one thats worth checking-out.