Bleed for This Sept 4, 2016 20:52:28 GMT -6
Post by The Ultimate Nullifier on Sept 4, 2016 20:52:28 GMT -6
Telluride Film Review: Miles Teller in ‘Bleed for This’
Miles Teller brings the intensity of 'Whiplash' to the boxing arena in this true story of Vinny Pazienza, who didn't let a broken neck stop him from fighting.
Boxing isn’t just about being able to throw a good punch. It’s just as much about how you take the blows that come at you. In the case of Vinny Pazienza, the hit he didn’t see coming happened outside the ring, when a head-on car accident left him with a broken neck and minimal chances of ever walking again, let alone fighting. And yet he refused to throw in the towel.
A comeback story within a comeback story, “Bleed for This” stars Miles Teller as the boxer who simply wouldn’t quit — the “Pazmanian Devil” who agreed to wear a painful halo brace for six months in hopes that he might heal enough to defend his world-champion title. Teller is terrific, which should come as no surprise to “Whiplash” fans, though no less significant, the film represents a significant return for writer-director Ben Younger, the once-hot “Boiler Room” auteur in whom Hollywood seems to have lost interest. Younger hadn’t made a feature since 2005’s “Prime,” but here finds a piece of material that’s a great fit for his macho, high-energy style — and could soon be the biggest hit of his career.
Still, all eyes are on Teller in a role that powerfully reinforces what a charismatic performer he is, whether pummeling an opponent in the ring or flirting with any woman who crosses his path (the ones on his arm change regularly enough). Pazienza is a larger-than-life character, an over-psyched loudmouth who never knows when to stop — which is equally clear in sparring matches as it is at the blackjack tables — and yet can credit that tenacity for his success. His obsessive personality is apparent enough from the opening scene, in which he wraps himself in Saran Wrap and hits the exercise bike in a desperate attempt to shed the last few ounces before his weigh-in, but the rest of the movie takes it to dangerous extremes since the slightest injury could snap his spinal column.
With Martin Scorsese in his corner, Younger has created a film that, like “Raging Bull” before it, offers nearly his entire cast a chance to prove their commitment via dramatic physical transformations. There’s Pazienza, of course, who spans three weight classes over the course of the film — from a thong-clad 140 pounds up to the meatier mid-160s after his accident. No less impressive is Aaron Eckhart, virtually unrecognizable as Kevin Rooney, the balding, pot-bellied boxing coach who not only trained Mike Tyson, but convinced Pazienza to fight at his natural weight, psyching him into extending a career that three straight losses had practically cut short.
The first half of the movie concerns itself with establishing what a dedicated, if obstinate sportsman Pazienza could be, building up to the title bout with middleweight champion Gilbert Dele. Shortly after winning that belt, fate dealt Pazienza a nasty blow. The boxer had spent plenty of time in emergency rooms prior to his accident, but had started to think himself invincible. Now, he has humility foisted upon him, forced to sleep in a bed set up in the family living room — which is nearly as big an obstacle to his libido as the elaborate halo contraption covering his chest and head (though he eventually finds a new girlfriend who kinda digs it: “It’s like braces times 1,000,” she says).
The operation itself is a grisly ordeal that involves tightening giant metal screws directly into his skull, and Younger milks the macabre procedure for all its worth — though it’s the halo’s removal half a year later, with no anesthesia or sedative, that really gets us squirming. As in “Boiler Room,” Younger has found a way to channel his characters’ cockiness directly into the film’s style, resulting in a movie that’s aggressively shot and edited to mirror Pazienza’s own attitude — though instead of slowing down once he’s injured, it keeps right on visiting strip clubs and casinos. Meanwhile, everyone’s attitude toward him changes, with other boxers refusing to fight him even after he’s healed. No one wants to be the guy who broke Pazienza’s neck, though the promise that it could happen adds a level of macabre suspense to the film’s final act.
Though every boxing movie since “Raging Bull” owes Scorsese some measure of gratitude (he serves as executive producer here), “Bleed for This” actually borrows more from David O. Russell’s “The Fighter.” Clearly inspired by that film’s wild energy and near-feral depiction of its central family, Younger elevates Pazienza’s eccentric Rhode Island clan almost to the point of caricature, with their big hair, wacky home furnishings, and quarrelsome chemistry. The camera simply can’t sit still when watching its agitated protagonist, his high-pressure dad (Ciarán Hinds, who can bellow with the best of them), foul-mouthed sister Doreen (Amanda Clayton), and superstitious mom Louise (Katey Sagal) — all of them looking like contenders in a bad-’80s-hair contest (another Russell-esque affectation).
Pazienza still lives at home, a set decorator’s dream (this one entrusted to Kim Leoleis), with its oppressive mix of ceramic elephant statues and Catholic iconography. Though Pazienza’s mother can’t bring herself to watch any of her son’s matches — she prefers to spend her time praying — Younger doesn’t dare deprive us of the spectacle, recreating historical matches with the same nail-biting tension they would have inspired live. Even so, the ring stuff isn’t nearly as compelling as the bout Pazienza is waging in his own head, and Teller takes us there, past the bruises and facial scars (makeup mixed with his own), to reveal the fire behind the fighter.
Telluride Film Review: 'Bleed for This'
Reviewed at Telluride Film Festival, Sept. 2, 2016. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — Special Presentations.) Running time: 116 MIN.
An Open Road release, presented with Magma Entertainment, in association with Sikelia Prods., Verdi Prods., Bruce Cohen Prods., Younger Than You Prods., Solution Entertainment Group. Producers: Bruce Cohen, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Chad A. Verdi, Noah Kraft, Ben Younger, Pamela Thur. Executive producers: Martin Scorsese, Joshua Sason, Michelle Verdi, Myles Nestel, Lisa Wilson.
Director, writer: Ben Younger. Story: Pippa Bianco, Angelo Pizzo. Camera (color), Larkin Seiple. Editor, Zachary Stuart-Pontier.
Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal, Ciarán Hinds, Ted Levine, Jordan Gelber, Amanda Clayton, Daniel Sauli, Christine Evangelista, Tina Casciani, Liz Carey, Denise Shaefer. (English, French dialogue)