Review of "Bleed For This (DVD)"

published 30/06/2017 | afy9mab
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Pro A solid cast.
Cons Derivative direction, hackneyed writing, stereotyped characterisation.
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"I Wouldn't Bleed For This"


Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza is a small-town boxer from Rhode Island, who makes a name for himself after winning two world title fights. But after a car accident leaves him with a broken neck, it looks as though his career is over. Doctors tell him that another fight could kill him. However, the stubborn pugilist is determined to get back in the ring. He enlists the help of disgraced trainer Kevin Rooney and just a year after his accident and against doctors’ orders he begins to train for what could be his very last fight.

Ben Younger (director of middling age-gap comedy “Prime”) returns with a boxing movie that seems very familiar. It feels as though he has absorbed ideas from almost every other boxing film ever made and has combined them to make an inspirational real-life tale feel flat and rote. Producer Martin Scorsese’s shadow looms large over the production, with the director aping his style but lacking the grace of Scorsese’s camerawork or the subtlety of his storytelling. Younger uses every boxing movie gambit. This includes the hand-held pans and the now ubiquitous lens flare, that is meant to give the film a sense of immediacy, but feels like a cliché due to overuse. He employs serious sans serif intertitles, pre-fight news reports, voiceover fight commentary and the obligatory woozy camerawork, slow-motion knock-outs and squealing feedback as the hero is floored by his opponent and rushed into hospital. There are also a lot of training montages. The film is at its most striking during the graphic car crash scene, which is shot from above and accompanied by the prolonged sounding of the car horn. But even that is a little on the clichéd side. The director doesn’t shy away from showing the physical cost of a boxing career, with graphic images of participants beaten to a bloody pulp. He’s also fairly good at recreating the sweaty atmosphere of the gyms that Vinny trains in. However, the abundant period detail shouts rather than whispers its presence, which adds to the feeling that this is a production more concerned with appearances than depth.

The storytelling lacks nuance. The director never delves into the emotional pain of a life-altering injury. Instead Pazienza’s comeback is presented as a very predictable, albeit colourful story of a fighter beating the odds. There is a lack of believable character development. Pretty much everyone feels like a sports movie cliché and many of them border on caricature. The main character doesn’t seem at all changed by his experiences - he’s the same smart-mouthed womaniser at the end of the film as he is at the beginning. As a result, the film lacks insight and emotional depth, leaving it a superficial take on the events, in spite of committed performances from a talented cast. The tone is generally earnest, but moments of comedy feel misplaced. In addition, pacing is an issue. The mid-section is flabby and slow-moving, as the hero tries to come to terms with his injury and starts training in secret. Once he is out of the ring the character and the film lose momentum, which is never fully regained as the film builds to its inevitable climax. I must admit that I started to lose interest as soon as Vinny began to show a renewed interest in training, as I ticked off all of the predictable plot mechanics. So for me, the hundred-and-seventeen-minute running-time seemed about half-an-hour too long.

Younger’s screenplay feels very much like a sports movie by-the-numbers, with all of the highs and lows you would expect. In the early stages, it focusses on a stubborn fighter, whose ambitions are greater than his abilities. His management is determined to ditch him and no-one has any faith in him. But then he teams up with a washed-up trainer, whose own glory days are a distant memory, made even hazier by his drinking problem. But together the pair manage to salvage Vinny’s career, by putting him up two weight classes and pairing the trainer’s tactics with his charge’s all-or-nothing approach. From here the underdog gets back into the ring, punching above his weight and winning the championship, in spite of the naysayers. But in time-honoured tradition, when it looks like things are finally going the main protagonist’s way, tragedy strikes (regardless of whether it’s a true story or not). Here it’s a near-fatal car accident that leaves Vinny wearing a ‘Halo’ head brace that is screwed directly into his skull. But in spite of his injuries, the hero is determined to fight again, taking to training in secret to achieve his goals. What follows is a predictable comeback against all the odds, which can’t help but feel like clichéd third act plot mechanics pasted onto a person’s real-life experiences. But at least the film doesn’t sentimentalise the business of boxing. When Vinny has lost three matches in a row, his promoter suggests retirement, but when the media takes an interest in his story, the same man says “I can sell this”, as if marketability is all that counts.

The characterisation is particularly disappointing, considering it is based on real people. Pretty much everyone is written like a sports movie stereotype. Vinny Pazienza is presented as a talented but cocky boxer, who is broken down both physically and emotionally by his accident. He is then built back up by his own bloody-minded determination and his dedicated coach. Said trainer is former booze hound Kevin Rooney, who is also on the comeback trail after an embarrassing conviction for drinking and driving. But it is Vinny’s family who are the least well drawn. His pushy but conflicted father and his religious mother (who can’t bring herself to watch her son fight) are utterly two-dimensional. Meanwhile his sisters and extended family play into the sketch comedy stereotype of the loud, brash Italian-American family arguing over their spaghetti at the dinner table. Occasionally Vinny brings home a big-haired floozy to complete the picture. The dialogue is predictable and peppered with the main protagonist’s wisecracks.

A newly beefed-up Miles Teller throws himself into the role of Vinny Pazienza, playing him as a cocksure, wisecracking brawler, who simply doesn’t know when to throw the towel in. He commits wholeheartedly to the part, although I’m not sure he has quite enough charisma to carry the whole film. Aaron Eckhart is in full-on character actor mode as Kevin Rooney. The lantern jaw, clean-cut good looks and sparkling baby blues are hidden under a hairline that has receded to the back of his head and a layer of flab topped by a paunch. He’s acting his socks off, but the part doesn’t feel as though it comes naturally to him. Ciarán Hinds gives him a run for his money with a gregarious, scene-stealing turn as Vinny’s Italian-American father Angelo, who is torn between living vicariously through his son’s achievements in the ring and protecting him from himself. It is an energetic performance, if largely lacking in subtlety and prone to the occasional accent slip. Katey Sagal is underused as Vinny’s brassy but religious mother, Louise.

The original music by Julia Holter consists of lots of piano and string arrangements, with occasional flourishes of cheesy saxophone or electric guitar. The piano chord progressions are always very similar and the majority of the string motifs are slightly discordant, so it sounds a little samey. One exception is a twangy ukulele number, which is also slightly off-key. The score struggles to be heard amongst the other soundtrack choices, which include plenty of rock from the likes of AC/DC, Bad Company and Billy Squiers, some 80s rap from Audio Two, “Monkey” by George Michael and the soulful sounds of Willis Earl Beal. Although it suited the period setting, it wasn’t something that appealed particularly to me as a body of work.

To be honest, I thought “Bleed For This” was mediocre. I found the direction derivative and uneven in tone. I thought the writing was too dependent on sports movie clichés and caricatures, which had a knock-on effect on the performances. I thought it was lacking in heart because the director was more interested in following the sports movie template than exploring the psyche of his main protagonist. If you fancy a middle-of-the-road boxing flick that isn’t going to tax your brain or your expectations, it might be worth a look, but I wouldn’t watch it again.

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Comments on this review

  • jo-1976 published 12/08/2017
    Great review
  • Pointress published 21/07/2017
  • danielclark691 published 20/07/2017
    very well reviewed
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Product Information : Bleed For This (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Actor(s) (Last name, First name): Hinds, Ciaran

DVD Region: DVD

Director(s) (Last name, First name): Younger, Ben

Video Category: Feature Film

EAN: 5051429103273

Classification: 15 years and over

Production Year: 2016


Listed on Ciao since: 30/06/2017