If anyone ever makes an Eddie Guerrero biopic, I am now 100% convinced that nobody but Miles Teller should play him; there’s a moment in this film where Teller’s hair style and goatee conspire to make him look the actual spitting image of the iconic late wrestler.
As for the film itself? Bleed for This may be a formulaic sports drama at its core, but it largely succeeds thanks to solid direction and two terrific performances, with Teller shaking off his blatant miscasting with surprising aplomb, even if he’s outdone by Aaron Eckhart and his marvelous shaved hairline, a sure return to form for the Dark Knight star.
Following the rise, fall and rise again of legendary boxer Vinny Pazienza (Teller), the film first convenes with Paz as he makes a name for himself in the late 80s and early 90s and starts earning real money, only for a devastating car crash to essentially reset him to zero and cause him to, against doctor’s orders, stage a superhuman comeback.
It’s a remarkable story and while not exactly told in a remarkable style here, it does nevertheless hit most of the checklist items you’d expect from an underdog sports movie. That the drama works is more important than in many similar films if only because there’s so little actual boxing here, which is probably what attracted the director of Meryl Streep’s Prime, Ben Younger, to the project in the first place.
Eckhart is especially excellent as Paz’s troubled trainer Kevin Rooney, giving an unflattering, admirable performance that verges from steely, to sweet, to scary. His chemistry with Teller is absolutely essential to making the movie work, and the two are marvelous together. It has to be said, though, that Katey Sagal is criminally under-utilised here as Paz’s mother Louise; reflecting on her work now, it’s already difficult to remember more than a few scattered seconds of her screen time.
Though there won’t be many surprised by what they see here (even those unaware of the real-life story), Bleed for This is another solid notch on Miles Teller’s record, and is plenty convincing that Paz’s gutsy comeback is worthy of its legendary status in sporting lore.
Bleed for This is in US cinemas November 18th and UK cinemas December 2nd