2016 has been the year of boxing films, from “Hands of Stone” to “The Bleeder” and now “Bleed For This” starring Miles Teller, which made its world premiere Friday evening at the Telluride Film Festival. The movie, directed by Ben Younger (“The Boiler Room”), is based on the true story of Vinny Pazienza, a world champion boxer who, after a near-fatal car crash, made one of sport’s most incredible comebacks. The first reviews are in, and while critics are split, more than half side favorably with Teller.
IndieWire’s David Ehrlich gave the film a C and suggests if you’ve never seen a boxing movie before, “don’t start with this one.”
“Every original drop of “Bleed for This” is lost in a sea of cliché and convention, and Younger seems totally incapable of separating the singular verve of his protagonist from the hackneyed arc of his defining ordeal. It’s maddening to see the spark of solidarity that welds Paz and Rooney into such close partners, only to then have the movie look in the other direction … Teller is appreciably committed to the character, but he’s only given one note to play, his full-bodied passion wasted on a movie that would rather win on points than go for the knockout.”
Peter Debruge of Variety was impressed with the star’s performance writing in his review:
“All eyes are on Teller in a role that powerfully reinforces what a charismatic performer he is, whether pummeling an opponent in the ring or flirting with any woman who crosses his path (the ones on his arm change regularly enough)…The ring stuff isn’t nearly as compelling as the bout Pazienza is waging in his own head, and Teller takes us there, past the bruises and facial scars (makeup mixed with his own), to reveal the fire behind the fighter.”
While The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy called the sports film a “somewhat familiar boxing drama,” he does agree that the lead’s acting abilities pack a wallop:
“As maniacally as he took drum playing to the limit in ‘Whiplash,’ Teller fights ‘til he wins or drops here. His intensity and determination levels are extreme, his proclivity for reckless, unthinking behavior just a bit less so, and the actor cuts a convincing boxer’s figure in the many scenes of training and combat.”
Chris Willman of The Playlist noted:
“[Teller] shows additional courage in staying true to the real Paz’s late ‘80s/early ‘90s porn ‘stache. As with ‘Whiplash,’ where he basically played an asshole-in-training, Teller is ideally cast as someone whose very profession demands a lack of cuddliness that is also the actor’s stock in trade. He’s terrific not just in the visceral punching scenes but the anti-visceral ones that dominate the middle part of the movie, when his neck and head are immobilized in the “halo” contraption that literally screws right into his brow.”
On the more negative side is Henry Barnes of The Guardian, who gives the film two stars out of five and was unimpressed by Teller.
“It’s not Vinny Paz’s fault. His story is sensational, inspirational. It’s Teller who is partly to blame. If ‘War Dogs’ was his first boring performance, ‘Bleed for This’ serves up his second. The part feels too easy for him and he brings an insouciance that doesn’t sit with the character’s hard-scrabble story.
“Bleed For This” opens in limited release on November 4 and goes wide on November 23.