‘Bleed for This’
Director: Ben Younger
Stars: Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart
2 (out of 5) Globes
“Bleed for This” is what happens when you think every story of overcoming adversity should become a simple inspirational movie. Taken at face value, the story of Vinny Paz delivers: A superstar boxer from Rhode Island, our hero (played in the film by Miles Teller) went from cock-of-the-walk, hungry to take an already thriving career next-level, to near-death after a nasty car accident. His neck broken, his head propped up by a circular brace called a “halo,” Paz ignored warnings by doctors and secretly trained himself back to fighting strength, even though such efforts could have easily left him permanently paralyzed.
It’s a crazier-than-fiction tale that’s also actually crazy: Paz rolled the dice and won, but it’s also a miracle he didn’t lose. He’s not a Rocky Balboa or that guy from “Rudy”; he’s a borderline sociopath. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get his own movie. It just means that a movie about him would do better resembling another film in which Miles Teller plays an overly-driven talent singlemindedly pursuing a foolish goal: “Whiplash.”
“Bleed for This,” however, only thinks he’s awesome. It’s like if “Whiplash” was intended as motivational. Introduced showing up an hour late for a press conference with his latest opponent, Teller’s Vinny struts around like a total badass, sometimes in un-ironic slow-mo to rap music. He spends the night before a fight staying up late on a casino floor, killing at craps then throwing cash onto his topless girlfriend. This isn’t a man about to go over the edge; this, filmmaker Ben Younger tells us, is what we all want to be, right? No wonder Vinny wants it all back after fate tells him no.
Younger broke through 16 years ago with “Boiler Room,” which had a similar jones for crooked, trash-talking brokers, even if it ended like a Production Code-era crime movie, telling us that these supermen are ultimately bad (but still awesome). Vinny, however, won, and the movie celebrates him every step of the way. The middle hour lovingly details his after-hours weight training, when he’d sneak into the basement and slowly pump iron, all while carefully trying not to jostle the giant contraption literally screwed into his head. (When he gets the screws out, he does it without painkillers. He’s that much of a badass.) Eventually he’s joined by his alcoholic trainer (Aaron Eckhart), who’s initially horrified but starts to think this potentially dangerous, maybe even fatal idea is pretty awesome, too.
Late in, Vinny’s hothead manager/father (Ciaran Hinds) discovers his son’s secret plan and blames himself for instilling his son with a maniacal drive. This is as close as Younger ever comes to acknowledging that Vinny might be out of his mind. Of course, the moment passes. There’s a stirring fight — with, amusingly, Roberto Duran, subject of another dodgy boxing weepie from only two months ago, “Hands of Stone” — to get to. Younger closes on an interview with Vinny that’s chilling in its over-confidence, but only more chilling because the filmmakers seem to agree with him.