America could use some hope and inspiration right now. This is why we have boxing movies, reminding us to pick ourselves up. If you think this country fell so hard that it can't get back up, wait until you see the incredible comeback story of Vinny Pazienza in Bleed for This
Miles Teller stars as the scrappy boxer from Rhode Island. He's a young man addicted to proving himself (much like Teller's character in Whiplash
). He trains and fights until he's completely drained. At one point in the film, his coach, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), tells him he has to know when to stop.
Pazienza was forced to stop in 1991 when he broke his neck in a car accident. Doctors said he might never walk again, let alone fight again. Instead of undergoing a spinal fusion, he chose to wear a medical device called a halo, which is essentially a metal cage screwed into the skull. It's a striking image — an embodiment of vulnerability, an outward expression of inner turmoil. Teller makes Pazienza's pain our own. His every movement will make you wince. This is the darkest, most compelling and ultimately most inspiring chapter of the film.
After a few weeks in the halo, Pazienza decided to disobey the doctors' orders and start training again. He ended up returning to the ring a little over a year after the accident. Writer-director Ben Younger doesn't skip right to the glory of it all, though. He lingers on the challenges Pazienza still faced after overcoming his physical obstacles — such as the fact that other boxers were hesitant to even spar with him due to the fear of putting him in the hospital again.
His coach shares that fear as well — the fear of playing a part in Pazienza's self-destruction. Eckhart powerfully captures the conflicted feelings stewing inside of his character. It's his best performance since Thank You for Smoking
. Like his character in that film, Rooney has demons looming over him, but just like Pazienza, he doggedly rises above them. Eckhart and Teller perfectly complement each other's performances, which are both rich, tender and Oscar-worthy. You could say the film itself is Oscar-bait — a winter release full of feel-good warmth. But it's much better than that; it doesn't deserve to be dismissed.
Of course, Bleed for This
has all the standard boxing movie clichés: the training montages, the motivational monologs, the final fight full of suspense. But it's such a powerful story that it truly earns its sentimentality. Plus, the clichés are a large reason why we love boxing movies. We love them because we know what to expect. We can rely on them to inspire us, to make us want to keep moving forward, no matter what we are fighting. Audiences certainly need something they can depend on in the midst of this bitter political climate. Bleed for This
is the kind of film we all need right now.