BLEED FOR THIS

Let it be said that few films can hold a candle to a good movie about boxing.  At least, that's my opinion.

It's hard to understate the importance of a franchise like Rocky, a series of films I was fortunate to see over time as I aged into adulthood, at which point the genre continued to cement a place in my heart with outstanding entries such as Ron Howard’s 2005 effort Cinderella Man and David O.  Russell’s Oscar-winning 2010 masterpiece The Fighter.  Even 2015's underrated Southpaw deserves a spot thanks to a gritty, compelling performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Bleed for This, the latest entry in the genre, takes elements from every film I've mentioned, combines them with yet another true story and succeeds in proving how cinematic boxing films can be.  Director Ben Younger, largely not seen since 2000's underappreciated Boiler Room, tells the story of Vinny Pazienza, a talented, cocky Italian boxer with a championship title who suffers a debilitating setback following a devastating car accident that leaves him nearly paralyzed from the neck down and a determined wish/goal to re-enter the ring despite the concerns of nearly everyone around him.

Right from the start, the films I’ve mentioned quickly show their influence on Bleed for This, but this isn’t a bad thing-a true story such as this one can’t be helped if one can compare it to any number of boxing, sports or underdog films in existence.  Indeed, a story like Vinny’s seems tailor-made for film, and in the main role Miles Teller thankfully redeems himself after the average War Dogs with a performance that borrows from Sylvester Stallone in the most affectionate way possible.  Aaron Eckhart as his alcoholic coach may be riddled with cliché, but in committing himself fully to the role he delivers yet another great performance next to his surprisingly fine appearance in last year’s Also-True Sully.  Katy Segal as Vinny’s mother is decent, however Ciaran Hinds as Vinny’s father Angelo may cause many to take notice-he may come off as a prototypical Italian mobster-type in both looks & speech, but somehow manages to exude compassion and a wonderful relationship with his on-screen son.  An uplifting score by Julia Holter fits the action onscreen perfectly, and it should come as no surprise that Angelo Pizzo, the man behind such underdog sports epics as 1993’s Rudy & 1986’s Hoosiers, fittingly adapted the screenplay along with Younger.

As reliable as the genre from which it comes, Bleed for This hits every predictable mark and yet still manages to tell an engaging story boosted by a superb cast & Younger's direction.  The casual filmgoer may see it as just another boxing film, but for me, it delivers a punch that squarely hits the mark.