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Bleed for This, written and directed by Ben Younger and based on the life of former world champion boxer Vinny Paz is a well made boxing biopic with great performances that never elevates itself above the tried-and-true of its genre.
Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller) is a struggling boxer that decides to revitalize his career by moving up two weight classes, taking the advice of Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), his new trainer. It’s a risky move, but it pays off with a huge victory for Pazienza, giving him the momentum he needs to get back on top – but a car accident gives him a severe spinal injury that the doctors say will prevent him from fighting ever again. Against the advice of medical professionals and his friends and family, Vinny refuses to give up and retire, firmly believing that he will fight again.
Sports biopics, and boxing biopics in particular, are a tough subgenre to innovate in. There’s a pretty rigid set of conventions, tropes and expectations that come with these types of narratives and movies that break the mold and rise above the formulaic are few and far between – last year’s Creed was one of them, Bleed for This isn’t.
The movie is based on a truly remarkable and inspiring true story that often feels all too familiar, because it’s presented in the comfortably predictable framework of a boxing biopic. Vinny’s absolute refusal to let his injury get the better of him should stand as a testament to human willpower and resilience and it does – but it’s one of many more just like it and it never finds something truly compelling enough to stand out among a tough crowd.
Bleed for This is a good movie through and through – it hits the right beats when it should and is backed up by truly terrific performances from Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart. However, at no point does it ever become anything more than just a pretty good boxing biopic – there are no significant faults to be found, yet there’s nothing worth praising that other movies of its kind haven’t done before or done better.
Where the tried-and-true formula really betrays the movie is in scenes that should carry a certain amount of risk – Vinny doing dangerous, stupid things to try and get back in the ring that could end up making his injury worse. Yet, there’s always a comfortable distance between him and the audience. The risk is acknowledged, but it doesn’t feel real. We know he’ll pull through in the end and that this is just a stepping stone to success.
With the amount of archival footage the movie’s peppered with, one has to wonder if this a story that would have worked a lot better as a straightforward documentary rather than a biopic. It’s certainly compelling enough. As it stands, it makes for a good movie, but little more than that.