Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Review: Bleed For This

Bleed For This (SPOILERS, technically*1. And bad language, certainly.)
Cert: 15 / 117 mins / Dir. Ben Younger / Trailer

And so, December is almost upon us and I braced the now-freezing elements as well as my less-than-warm reservations*2 for the true-story movie of Vinny Paziena, the successful Rhode Island boxer who suffered a broken neck in a car crash in 1991, then worked towards an unprecedented recovery and back into the ring to carry on fighting.

As you might imagine, writer/director Ben Younger's film isn't a barrel of laughs, although a few uneasy chuckles are scattered among the scowls, frowns and wincing. The path to righteous retribution is gritty and painful, and Miles Teller puts in a decent turn as the troubled boxer. Also supporting ably are Aaron Eckhart as the only trainer in history who's not a washed-up, exploitative sociopath, and Ciarán Hinds as the only father/manager in history who's not a bitter, exploitative sociopath (Ciarán channelling his best Robert de Niro here, arguably better than de Niro can manage these days).

Although it borrows heavily from the trope-bank (more on that shortly), Bleed For This is actually at its best when it's a story about people. Although it's central to the story, the film isn't about the sport, that just serves as a backdrop to frame the characters. Well acted all round and strongly directed from Younger, the efficient screenplay doesn't spoon-feed the audience too much, although with a plot this linear it doesn't have to. The film also does this weird thing where various clips of news and archive fight-footage feature the real-life Vinny Paz, rather than Miles Teller's portrayal. But not all the clips. And it's all the more noticeable because they don't look that alike. I suspect it's meant to be a tribute, but it's a weird way of doing it.

All in all, I thought Bleed For This was actually a pretty decent (if low-key) drama all the time it wasn't trying to be A Boxing Film™ and applying unrestrained cliches accordingly:
Plucky working-class underdog*3 determined to fight, against expectations and recommendations.

Grizzled old promoter saying "Ya got heart, kid!".

Training-montage with musical backing (three of these).

A flashback sequence in the final act to remind the audience of things which happened less than an hour ago.

A final, climactic, blood-stained match with female members of the family watching from between their fingers on the TV, which goes the full twelve rounds without anybody losing consciousness so is then decided upon by the judges. Yes. Fucking again (cf this and that). Everything the audience goes through with Vinny - the sweat, the pain, the anger, the frustration, the fear, the determination… none of those are what earns Paziena the title. That was done by the opinion of a guy sitting at a desk.
That's not redemption, it's fucking admin.

"Hey Terry, both of these lads are still standing after the full twelve rounds, which one do you think should win?"
"Well neither of them yet, obviously Bob. Tell them to keep punching each other in the face until only one of them can walk out of the ring. That's what they're fucking well there for, after all. I'm here to make sure they don't start biting or stabbing each other, not to hand out 'I tried hard' badges, for fuck's sake. If I knew this was going to be down to my opinion, I'd have called it an hour ago and been at home by now…"

But like I say, apart from being A Boxing Film™, it's a passable enough drama.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The kind of films where people argue in between wearing shorts and punching each other in the face.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
There's nothing particularly cinematic about it, I've got to say.
Especially all those reaction-shots during the actual face-punching

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think so, yes.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not, but it's a solid effort.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Of course not.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Of course not.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Well, Miles teller was in the running to be the young Han Solo (and yes, I'm glad that didn't pan out), however, this film stars Katey Sagal who was in that Sons of Anarchy along with Jimmy 'Organa' Smits.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 It's a 'true story', the facts have been out there since they happened in the early 1990s. Although I'll understand if you don't know the outcome of the climactic match before watching the film (I certainly didn't). Anyway, no spoilers in this particular paragraph, just in the review above.

*2 Yeah, I didn't want to open the review with a sluice of negativity (although if you're reading the footnotes as you go then I've pretty much done that anyway), but I wasn't looking forward to this if I'm honest. We're not even into full Oscar-season yet and I've already had enough of Worthy True Story Films™; 2016's been angst-ridden enough as it is without putting myself through the ringer when I sit down in the cinema, too. Added to this, I don't seem to have a great track record when it comes to The Boxing Films. Even with the training, skill and passion inherent to the sport (I imagine), it still comes down to two people getting Punched In The Face, and that's what The Stath is for, right? The trailer for Bleed For This is basically just a guy saying "Hey. I might be disabled now but I still want to get Punched In The Face, because that's all I know and when you think about it there's something kinda inspirational about that, don't you think?". Like doing an inherently stupid thing for heartfelt reasons automatically makes it a good thing. Again, cf 2016. And what's that you say? The film's got the lead actor from the Fantastic Four reboot in it? Well, where do I sign up? To be honest, Bleed For This could only have been less appealing if it featured a duet between Peter Kay and James Corden singing about how great they are, a backing choir of three Katie Hopkins clones and Piers Morgan playing a foghorn. And if that's what I'm feeling before I go into a movie, it's really going to have to work hard to impress me.
But Like I said, I didn't really want to open the review with that paragraph...

*3 Although not to piss on the film's parade unduly, but the guy's not an angel by any means. While his convictions all occurred after the events of this movie, you can't imagine that Vinny was into crochet and The Archers growing up, y'know?

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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