Bleed for This Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Ciaran Hinds. Directed by Ben Younger. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
A few months ago, the biopic Hands of Stone told the life story of boxer Roberto Duran, without ever depicting fellow boxing icon Vinny Pazienza. Watching Hands of Stone, you’d never get the sense that Duran’s match with Pazienza was a particularly notable moment in his career, and yet in the new Pazienza biopic Bleed for This, the match-up between the two boxers provides the climax of the story, a victory that puts Pazienza back on track to stardom. It’s a sign of just how contrived and manufactured any sports biopic can be, and like Hands of Stone, Bleed for This is unremarkable, predictable and forgettable, slotting its real-life main character into a familiar formula.
Miles Teller plays Pazienza, a brash, confident guy from working-class Providence, Rhode Island, who’s already a high-profile champion when the movie begins. Rather than tracing the early days of his career, the movie focuses on Pazienza’s long recovery from injuries sustained in a serious car accident, after which he was told he might never walk again, let alone box. Thanks to the efforts of trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart, nearly unrecognizable) and support from his equally loud, overbearing family, Pazienza not only made it back to the ring but also secured further championships (including by defeating Duran).
The movie’s version of Pazienza is a single-minded hard worker whose only real flaw is his ambition, and Teller plays him as cocky but dedicated. He’s mostly one-dimensional and not a particularly interesting character to watch, even as he pushes past unlikely odds to recover from a broken neck. The movie leaves out any romantic relationships, instead focusing on the typical athlete/trainer dynamic between Pazienza and Rooney (a journey from antagonism to mutual respect), and the pressure that Pazienza gets from his family, especially his fame-hungry father (Ciaran Hinds). There are a handful of emotional moments, but mostly writer-director Ben Younger sticks to the basics, and the straightforward boxing scenes are nothing special. Pazienza himself is a complicated figure (in real life he’s been arrested numerous times and struggled with substance abuse, none of which is depicted in the movie), just like Roberto Duran, but in the movies, they’re equally anonymous.