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Bleed for This
Sporting truth is less exciting than the crowd-pleasing fiction peddled by Sylvester Stallone's 1976 Oscar-winning heavyweight Rocky in writer-director Ben Younger's bruising tale of triumph against adversity. Bleed For This dramatises the remarkable rise, fall and phoenix-like rebirth of Italian-American boxer Vinny Pazienza, aka the Pazmanian Devil, who found his footing in the ring with a new trainer shortly before a terrible car accident fractured his neck. Doctors told Pazienza that he might never walk again, let alone brawl, because of damage to his spine. One jolt or knock could result in permanent paralysis. Ignoring stark medical advice, Pazienza secretly trained his body using a makeshift gym in his basement while wearing a halo metal brace that encircled his head, with a view to returning to the ring to reclaim his status as a champion. "This is a Hail Mary at best," a terrified trainer warns Pazienza in one sobering scene. Bleed For This is a classic underdog tale and the film's fight card is crammed with training montages, tough talking and heart-breaking setbacks, which have becomes rousing cliches for the genre. Miles Teller, who sweated blood and tears in Whiplash, delivers a knockout lead performance as the working class slugger with a stubborn streak and a thirst to win. He inflicts powerful blows with his unflinching portrayal, while other aspects of Younger's script fail to connect at all. The film opens in the late 1980s at a Las Vegas press conference, where Paz (Teller) arrives late for a weigh-in and subsequently loses the bout in front of his father Angelo (Ciaran Hinds) and girlfriend Ashley (Christina Evangelista). Back home, his deeply religious mother Louise (Katey Sagal) prays her boy will emerge safely for the ring. The setback convinces Paz to join forces with a no-nonsense new trainer, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), who encourages the fighter to move up a weight class against the advice of boxing promoter Lou Duva (Ted Levine). It's a shrewd decision, but the euphoria of defeating champion Roberto Duran (Edwin Rodriguez) is cut short when Paz is involved in a head-on collision with a car driving on the wrong side of the road. Everyone tells the boxer to give up, but Rooney eventually agrees to help Paz take a calculated risk in the ring. "Show me how you fight!" barks Rooney. "Show me who you are!" Bleed For This would be a lightweight contender without Teller's muscular theatrics and well-drilled support from Eckhart. Boxing sequences are well choreographed and the period is nicely evoked with archive news footage. Real-life home video, shown during the end credits, is more moving and inspirational than anything Younger conjures on the screen and dramatic tension dissipates at the very moment we should be on the edge of our seats.