Monday 28 November 2016

Bleed for This

Rating: 4/5

Talented everyman Miles Teller produces a stellar performance in Boiler Room director Ben Younger’s Bleed for This, a gritty and occasionally thoughtful boxing paean, as plucky as it is ultimately inspiring. Anchored by its leading man’s star turn, this a 'based on a true story' picture that maturely embraces its subject matter, filtering its conventional pugilism-is-life narrative through a blue-collar lens that feels emotionally rewarding and even somewhat original.

Teller is no stranger to pushing himself beyond that likeable frat-boy persona into the realms of respectable method acting. Whiplash, an astounding psychological drama and the best film of 2015, was built as much around Teller’s fraught physical travails as it was the bone-chilling sneer of eventual Oscar winner J.K. Simmons. Here, the younger man succeeds once again in conveying genuine human suffering.

He portrays fighter Vinny Pazienza, both working-class crusader and genuine contender for the top. Nicknamed (of course) the Pazmanian Devil, Pazienza, a totem for his home community of Providence, Rhode Island, seems destined for superstardom until a car crash – captured with vicious clarity – robs him of his mobility, as well as his chance at greatness. 

Teller avoids the rote conventions of the genre by playing Pazienza as a serious professional. He is no underdog, rather an established presence on the boxing circuit with genuine designs on the summit of his craft. As such, his temporary disability is faced with a refreshing lack of melodrama. Teller's stoic facade cracks only briefly, before being packed away behind his resolve. 

His relationship with both his parents (Ciarán Hinds and Katey Sagal) and his trainer, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart, offering layers to a character otherwise beset by inconsistencies), is especially well observed. If anything, the iron-clad determination to recover imbues those around him with a measure of strength they might otherwise struggle to locate.  

When redemption does arrive there is little to surprise anyone, yet it is impossible to deny Younger's style, nor the decision to place his fate on Teller's hulking shoulders. 

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