Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 31, 2023)
Movies love to portray stories of sports underdogs who rise to the top. For an extreme example of this genre, we go to 2016’s Bleed For This.
Set in the late 1980s and based on a true story, we meet boxer Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller). After he works his way up the ranks, he eventually becomes the WBA World Light Middleweight champion.
A few days later, though, Vinny winds up in a car accident that causes him to suffer a severe neck injury that appears to leave his boxing career done. Vinny refuses to accept his fate and determines that he will make his way back to the ring.
Obviously that last paragraph reveals the major twist in Bleed. While “winning against the odds” sports stories remain a dime a dozen, Vinny’s ability to come back from shrinkingly small odds makes this one different.
In theory, that is. Despite the narrative curveball Vinny’s injury brings to Bleed, everything else about it seems Hollywood Cookie Cutter.
Which doesn’t necessarily seem like a terrible thing. Cliché stories can still make for entertaining tales.
One problem here comes from Vinny himself. For us to care about his path back from near-death, we need to care about him - and we don’t.
Well, not in a particularly strong manner, at least. Bleed largely leaves Vinny devoid of personality beyond stock “working class New England scrapper”.
When the film gives Vinny more than that, he tends to come across as superficial and cavalier, such as when we see him party and gamble the night before a big fight. The movie simply delivers little reason for us the bond with Vinny, and given his flaws, we may find ourselves less than sympathetic toward him.
Not that this means the movie makes him seem like a jerk who “deserves” his injury, of course. I just feel the story needs to give the audience a stronger love for Vinny if we intend to clearly invest in his path to recovery.
Beyond that issue, Bleed simply lacks creativity or spark. It delivers a collection of inspirational movie clichés without anything new or especially compelling here beyond the big twist of Vinny’s accident.
It doesn’t help that after Vinny gets hurt, we just don’t find much that we could call compelling. Largely we encounter a bunch of scenes in which Vinny says he’ll come back to the ring and others discourage him.
Really, that’s about it. The story lacks much depth and just tends to become fairly bland and redundant.
Again, Bleed just doesn’t deliver compelling characters. The cast tries their best, but the underwritten roles remain without much to lead to audience investment.
At its core, Vinny’s story remains stunning – and it should lead to a dynamic character drama. However, Bleed never gets where it needs to go, so it winds up as a mediocre underdog tale.
Footnote: archival footage of Vinny and others shows up during the end credits.