Since his extraordinarily intense performance as the tormented Andrew in the Oscar-nominated Whiplash, Miles Teller has been nothing short of a disappointment. Roles in last year’s infamous Fantastic Four reboot and the Allegiant series have stunk of blockbuster blandness, while his character in schlocky generic rom-com That Awkward Moment was as unambitious as it was overdone. Clearly, the brief golden boy of Hollywood needed a better project and Bleed for This seemed a promising place to start.
The strength of director Ben Younger’s film lies primarily in the incredible true story it tells. Teller plays Vinny Pazienza, a world champion in middleweight boxing, who is seriously injured in a horrific car crash. A broken neck leads to Pazienza being told he may never walk again and the majority of the film follows his life in the aftermath of the accident. The contrast of seeing Teller go from a cocky, egotistical champion to a feeble, bedridden patient is a powerful sight and Younger pulls few punches in laying bare Pazienza’s pain.
Teller is brilliant in the central role, portraying a mixture of frustration and despair as he faces life in a neck brace. Vinny’s unstoppable ambition and motivation to continue training despite his condition is clear in Teller’s passionate performance. The physical toll on the actor, that has been widely covered in the buildup to the film’s release, adds to Teller’s believability as a boxer, with his bulked up figure a worthy challenger to Stallone’s muscle in the Rocky series.
Supporting roles from Woody Harrelson and Ciaran Hinds are notable for providing much wit and optimism to the film, with Hinds nailing the role of Paz’s rough but caring father. A credits roll featuring photos of the real-life Vinny and his family serve as credit to the excellent casting, with everyone bearing a remarkable resemblance to their on-screen counterpart.
The disappointment of the film is there little to set it apart from all the other Oscar-hopeful releases of the next few months. The fight scenes are reasonably well choreographed but quick camera cuts and an overuse of close up shots mean they lack the impact of, for example, the “one-take” fight in last year’s Creed. While the majority of the film takes place outside of the ring, the only particularly memorable scene is the shocking and completely unexpected car crash. On the whole though, director Younger’s unambitious execution leaves little else to compliment or critique.
Bleed for This manages to merit a watch purely on the strength of Teller’s performance. The extraordinary true story of Pazienza and his swift decline from the ring is enough to justify the existence of Younger’s film but it’s workmanlike, largely unexceptional style suggests that with a different director, this could have been a far more unique biopic.