I understand the comparison of Superhero movies to Westerns; the sudden rush of movies made in a certain genre to fit to an audience trend that ultimately rose and fell. It’s a comparison that makes sense and I understand it. I don’t, however, necessarily agree with that comparison. I’m a big fan of comic book films and see great differences in the ways that the individual stories are told in each movie. Westerns, on the other hand, have never really worked for me. They tend to mainly blend together in my mind. I therefore think that the more accurate comparison is Westerns to Sports Dramas. Sure, there’s Raging Bull, Field of Dreams, and Creed, but there’s also some very uninspired and clichéd movies that don’t stand out or distinguish themselves. Much like “Western” the genre of “Sports Drama” has become a plot synopsis on its own.
Standing somewhere in the middle of this phenomenon is Bleed for This, this year’s inspirational sports drama about the real-life rise, fall and comeback of boxer Vinnie Paz (Miles Teller). The film is perfectly fine, but rarely rises above the standard storytelling traps of its genre.
The film introduces us to Vinnie as a reckless, wildcard fighter who gambles his own life as often as he does his money in a casino. In a last chance attempt to turn his career around, Vinnie is placed under the supervision of Coach Kevin Rooney (a uniquely against-type Aaron Eckhart) who helps train him to a career highpoint. Unfortunately, a sudden accident puts his future in jeopardy, but with the help of his coach and his family, Vinnie fights hard to regain his strength and make a comeback to his sport.
Although it is inspired by true events, writer/director Ben Younger’s script often feels derivative of many other inspirational sports films. It’s not especially groan worthy, as the movie is very well directed, edited and acted, but the clichés are frequent and noticeable.
Miles Teller does a great job carrying Bleed for This. His turn as the struggling boxer is one of his most compelling performances to date. He fully embodies this character, creating his own vision of who he is while staying true to the actual man he’s playing. This is hands down the most I’ve ever liked him in a film. Also impressive is Aaron Eckhart as the alcoholic, out-of-shape trainer. He goes all out, entirely committing himself to the physicality of the role he’s playing. While he portrays a convincing and interesting character, it is at times distracting how wildly different this part is from anything he’s done before. There are other actors like Christian Bale or Jared Leto who are well known for their thorough transformations into their characters. Perhaps Mr. Eckhart will become a performer like that, but in his first role like this, it’s a bit jarring. He’s fantastic, but I don’t understand why it’s him.
The film does have some real solid moments however, particularly in regard to Mr. Younger’s direction. There are some truly intense and fresh takes on scenes that could have otherwise seemed lazy. The climactic boxing match, for example, is breathtaking. His direction is much more powerful than his script.
Ultimately, Bleed for This is a flawed movie. The pacing is very weak, and the dialogue is far too on-the-nose and formulaic. The performances, direction, and editing all elevate the movie well above the rather basic script, and turn it into an enjoyable and mostly compelling sports drama. It might not be the most memorable, but it’s certainly a fine enough film overall.