Bleed for This

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday November 18, 2016

Miles Teller stars in 'Bleed for This'
Miles Teller stars in 'Bleed for This'  

As "Bleed for This" begins, boxer Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller, in what looks to be a prosthetic nose) is coming to a slow by inevitable realization: His habit of dehydrating himself in order to make weight and fight in classes that are uncomfortably (if not dangerously) below where he should be fighting may seem like a great tactical idea (after all, he's won the title of World Lightweight Champion before transitioning to junior welterweight), but it's taking hell of a toll on him. After a particularly dismal fight, his manager reaches a different conclusion: It's time for Vinny to hang up his gloves.

But Vinny won't hear of it. Instead, he pleads for one more shot. He's granted his wish, along with a new trainer, a fellow named Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart, sporting a balding head and a paunch) who seems headed for the skids himself. The new arrangement means that Vinny has to commute some, but he's willing to put in the time and effort. Kevin, for his part, brings to the table a fresh take on Vinny's potential: He insists that Vinny upgrade by two weight classes, and trains him accordingly.

If going into the film you know it's based on the true story of a boxer who was injured in the early 1990s and then made a spectacular comeback, but you are fuzzy on the details, I hesitate to spoil anything. Still, you'd have seen in the trailer that the accident that fractures one of Vinny's vertebrae -- dangerously close to his spinal cord -- is not sports-related. That's a distinction worth noting, because while this is nominally a sports movie, it's actually not a boxing flick, and writer-director Ben Younger doesn't really try to make it one. In fact, even the boxing sequences don't much feel like boxing -- Younger's camera shuttles around in what looks like hand-held chaos, framing the air above the fighters' heads, where you can see clouds of sweat flung up as blows land, and hear the impacts, but not witness the brutal poetry that's possible when a film is in love with pugilism. The editing -- which has a murky, confused quality -- doesn't help.

But this ends up not mattering so much, because this is a movie about determination with a good-sized dose of blunt machismo. Teller -- who profiled similar gutsiness in "Whiplash" -- is a dervish of boastfulness and testosterone here. His chemistry with Eckhart far outstrips anything the film offers in the way of romantic connection with Vinny's girlfriends, and even nudges Vinny's overbearing father (Ciarán Hinds, doing a credible Rhode Island accent) out of the ring. It's the classic tale of two men facing a dead end and finding a path toward their better selves through a tough and manly partnership.

The film's adverts ignore Younger's previous films ("Prime," the similarly testosterone-soaked "Boiler Room") and instead sells audiences on the fact that the same producer, Bruce Cohen, also brought us "Silver Linings Playbook." This film is different from that multi-Oscar-nominated, David O. Russell-directed Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence vehicle in mood and tone, look and feel, thrust and drive; there's nothing coy or romantic about it, aside from the rough romance of burly men in a ring battering away at each other. This is a middleweight movie with some nice moves, but no real knockout punch.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.