Bleed for This (R)

Drama 116 min. November 18, 2016
By Danny King
Ben Younger's workmanlike but rousing Bleed for This accomplishes something that's a tall order for any boxing movie: It makes the inspirational training-montage sequences weird. Those are generally the most requisite and unexciting element of the genre, but Bleed for This freshens thanks to the strange and disturbing parameters of its based-on-fact plot. Here, our against-all-odds fighter hero, Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), doesn't mount his unlikely path to success in a crowded, sweaty gymnasium or among the at-dusk sidewalks of a quiet neighborhood — he does it in the basement of his parents' Long Island home, in the middle of the night.

The victim of a near-fatal, head-on car accident, Vinny defies the restrictions of his bed-bound recovery -- there's a metal brace screwed into his head, a clear sign that he should never fight again -- and gets to work bench-pressing at 3:30 in the morning. He covers the floor with blankets, so the thud of the weights won't wake his family.

It's not until the crash, though, that Younger and Teller start to distinguish the movie. Confined to the house and equipped with the surgical head brace -- the product of a risky "halo surgery" -- Vinny is forced into a period of reflection. The family's lasagna dinners turn heated when sisters start passing Vinny utensils they never would have helped him with before. Each shot of Vinny just entering or exiting a car is excruciating. Still, he tiptoes downstairs to try to lift weights, the screws from the surgery drilled into his forehead, one of the movie's many vivid and unsettling illustrations of the single-minded drive of the born athlete.
Ben Younger Miles Teller, Katey Sagal, Aaron Eckhart, Ciarán Hinds, Ted Levine, Stephanie McIntyre, Christine Evangelista, Amanda Clayton Pippa Bianco Bruce Cohen, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Chad A. Verdi, Noah Kraft, Ben Younger, Pamela Thur Open Road Films

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