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Teller plays Vinny, a boxer on the cusp of great things when it all comes crashing down in a horrific car accident and he wakes up in hospital with a broken neck.

Gritty tale of a fighter who refuses to give up

Dec 9, 2016 5:50 AM

SOMETIMES it feels like we need another boxing biopic about as much as we need a hole in the head, so it's more than a little ironic that Bleed for This is the tale of a fighter who spends a significant amount of screen time with several holes in his head - courtesy of a scary contraption called the halo neck brace. The film, written and directed by Ben Younger, is not the least bit subtle, but it does pack a firm wallop.

When we're first introduced to him, Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller) is on a training bike in a Las Vegas hotel room, peddling furiously in a desperate attempt to lose a few extra ounces.

Vinny, who plays cards, girls and the fight game with the same reckless abandon, is woefully under-prepared for a championship bout against an opponent in perfect fighting shape.

It's 1988 and Vinny, a brash, blue-collar brawler from Rhode Island who promptly loses his third fight in a row, is about to be put out to pasture by his own manager, Lou Duva (Ted Levine).

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"You got heart kid, but you wear it on your chin," says Duva.

Vinny's dad Angelo (Ciaran Hinds), a quintessential Italian-American boor whose colourful vocabulary and rude behaviour make him so easy to dislike, lives vicariously through his son and is devoted to his well-being.

Vinny is farmed out to Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart, barely recognisable with a paunch and a bald pate), a washed-up, heavy-drinking trainer who persuades him to put on a few pounds and move up a weight class or two.

"You can't brawl at this weight, you have to box," advises Rooney.

Vinny is ill-disciplined in and out of the ring, but he has a swaggering belief in his own ability and is determined to realise his potential.

Faster than you can say "Rocky Balboa", Vinny (who changes his name to Vinny Paz and whose fight name is "The Pazmanian Devil") knocks the stuffing out of opponents, wins a title belt and stands poised to conquer the world.

Then it all comes crashing down in a horrific car accident and he wakes up in hospital with a broken neck.

The prognosis is grim but Vinny refuses to accept his fate, opting instead for a gruelling rehabilitation process that involves having the mother of all neck braces - a medieval-looking device known as the halo - attached to his head and kept in place by metal screws inserted directly into his skull.

Even more disconcerting, he insists on starting to train again - against Rooney's advice, without Angelo's knowledge, and with a small metal tower holding his neck in place.

It's an impressive display of willpower as Vinny is bent on not only recovering, but also fighting again.

Given that Bleed for This is based on a true story, we know how this plays out. Just inches from paralysis, Vinny beats impossible odds and ends up back in the ring, going mano a mano against the great Roberto Duran - twice. Vinny is a natural showman after all - and the show must go on.

Teller, who was powerfully convincing in Whiplash (2014) as a jazz drummer driven to the very edge, laces on the gloves, puts on his game face and comes out looking like a champ.

Bleed for This is the gritty comeback tale of a fighter who was down for the count. It isn't pretty but it is convincing - and it always looks like going the distance.

Rating: B-