[Screen It]


(2016) (Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart) (R)

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Drama: A boxer attempts to return to the ring after a car accident leaves him severely injured.
It's the late 1980s and super lightweight boxing champion Vinny Pazienza (MILES TELLER) has been defeated in his attempt to win in the junior welterweight division. That defeat leads his trainer, Lou Duva (TED LEVINE), to drop him, something that doesn't sit well with Vinny's father, Angelo (CIARAN HINDS), who's always in his corner during fights, unlike his wife, Louise (KATEY SAGAL), who can't even bring herself to watch their son's bouts on TV.

In steps washed-up trainer Kevin Rooney (AARON ECKHART) who once trained Mike Tyson before problems with alcohol derailed his career. He hopes for a second chance with Vinny and believes the boxer should fight in a higher weight class rather than always dehydrating himself to compete in a lower one. Their work together eventually leads to success, but a sudden car accident leaves Vinny with a broken neck.

As his parents, sister Doreen (AMANDA CLAYTON), and girlfriend Ashley (CHRISTINE EVANGELISTA) hope he won't end up paralyzed, Vinny is determined not only to avoid that, but also to get back into the ring. From that point on, and despite the long odds, inherent danger, and no one initially believing in him, he works hard to make that happen.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Over the years, I've made note of the fact that Hollywood has a long history of making and releasing very similar films over a short span of time. One year had various body-switching movies come out, another had "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact," while two White House invasion flicks came out in the same year a few trips around the sun ago. That usually stems from a script or movie idea being shopped around studios and then being made into competing movies that, by the nature of filmmaking, end up being released around the same time.

While I don't think that's the case in this year's example, who figured that 2016 would feature two boxing flicks featuring Panamanian pugilist Roberto Duran? Granted, the first was specifically about that former champion probably best known for battling Sugar Ray Leonard (and abruptly stopping in the middle of one bout with the infamous "No mas" statement) and the second just features him as a significant opponent against another boxer. Even still, it's sort of a weird coincidence.

Thankfully, while "Hands of Stone" wasn't that good, "Bleed For This" is and then some. Based on the true and, quite frankly, uber remarkable tale about Vinny Pazienza who rose to champion level, suffered a horrific broken neck injury in a car accident and then against the long odds and understandable skepticism and doubts managed to return to the ring, the film features strong performances, good direction, and manages to breathe some new life into a sports genre that's more than well worn.

After "Rocky" set the standard for such boxing flicks -- gulp -- forty years ago, it's been difficult for any new boxing movie to do something different with the formula. After all, most feature a fighter training hard (with some to a lot of montages of such preparation), literally and figuratively battling his way to a pivotal bout, and contending with external and usually some internal conflict along the way.

Despite that familiar plot, every once in awhile a new entry comes along and manages to surprise us by offering something just new or different enough to keep us engaged and root for the protagonist's success. Offerings such as "Million Dollar Baby," "The Fighter," "Cinderella Man" and last year's "Creed" are examples of such pics, and this new film from writer/director Ben Younger can now be added to that list.

Of course, some of that could stem from the fact that I wasn't familiar with Pazienza's story. While I was really into boxing during the Ali, Foreman and Frazier years, that started to wane during the Tyson era and I couldn't even tell you who the current champions and contenders might be. Pazienza -- who fought in a lower weight class than those more notable champions -- was simply a pugilist who didn't make it onto my radar awareness screen, even with his remarkable comeback tale.

In the film, Miles Teller plays the fighter, and while he wouldn't have been anywhere near my first choice for such a role (I think he's a terrific actor but didn't see the physical potential there), he's pretty darn good embodying the headstrong young man. So much so that you sort of forget you're watching the same actor probably best known for appearing in the "Divergent" movies but who was so much better in smaller flicks such as "Whiplash" and "The Spectacular Now."

Although it's not quite Oscar caliber work -- mainly due to the script not quite giving the character enough depth -- it's still a strong performance, a descriptor that also suits Aaron Eckhart as his washed-up trainer who's looking for a second chance and Ciarán Hinds as the boxer's loyal and highly opinionated father.

While there's only so much one can do with the in-ring material, Younger does just enough to keep that footage from feeling rote, tired or stale, and he decently mixes that with the home and gym material to the point that I actually started pulling for the protagonist to succeed, both in and out of the ring.

That's somewhat remarkable considering I'm fairly jaded toward boxing flicks due to the aforementioned familiarity and abundance of such movies, but I really got into this film and its remarkable real-life story. You might as well, and thus "Bleed For This" gets a strong recommendation and a score of 7 out of 10.

Reviewed November 14, 2016 / Posted November 18, 2016

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