After a near-fatal car accident, doctors told boxer Vinny Pazienza he might never walk again. He most certainly wouldn’t compete in the boxing ring. However, Vinny fears quitting more than he does pain. He opts to skip a safe spine surgery for procedure known as the ‘halo’—an iron ring drilled into his skull. The film Bleed For This is centered around this story and portrays Vinny’s recovery with unforgiving realism.
Bleed For This isn’t a normal boxing movie. It doesn’t feature the same ‘feel good’ moments found in films like Cinderella Man (2005) or Rocky (1976). It doesn’t hit all of the familiar story-beats in the boxing genre. Unlike boxing films in the past, this movie doesn’t tell the audience how it should feel about its hero.
The film’s dedication to realism is found in its lack of soundtrack music. Silence in the place of music is a tool often used by filmmakers when they want a scene to feel realistic. The first few minutes of Bleed For This feature no music—signifying its objective to portray a realistic biopic.
The realism in which the film desires has both powerful and frustrating results.
Vinny Pazienza in the 'halo' neck brace. Picture credit:Rhode Island Monthly.
The film doesn’t tell the audience what it should think about Vinny Pazienza. For the first half of the movie, he’s almost unlikeable. He’s a cocky athlete who enjoys gambling and strip clubs. However, after he suffers a career ending accident, Vinny’s character transformation moves from cliché to captivating.
In the midst of Vinny’s journey to recovery, he refuses to quit. When his family, manager, and trainer tell him to retire, he refuses.
He tells trainer Kevin Rooney, played by Aaron Eckhart, “If there was ever a time to gamble, it’s now…I know exactly how to give up. You know what scares me, Kev? Is that it's easy.”
Against the will of his family, Vinny lifts weights in his basement with Kevin's help. At first, he struggles to lift a barbell. By the end of his journey, he’s ready to compete in a title fight.
After completing what may be one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, Vinny is asked to share the biggest lie told to him by people.
“‘It’s not that simple’…it’s how they get you to give up. They say ‘it’s not that simple’...The truth is that it is that simple. Do the things that they tell you and you realize that it was always that simple.”
Bleed For This is a film designed to showcase this idea. Vinny Pazienza’s story is one that shows anything is possible if a person is willing to do the work necessary to achieve their dreams. Haters and naysayers often preach how dreams just ‘aren’t that simple.’ Vinny’s story shows that never giving up, staying positive, and working hard are the ingredients to achieving success. It’s that simple.
The film’s dedication to portray Vinny’s life with realism is also its biggest flaw. The powerful messages in the movie are mixed with R rated content including strong language and full nudity. Vinny’s story is one that needs to be told to audiences of all ages. Strong R rated elements hinder the opportunity for this to be an uplifting film for audiences both young and old. Watching this film with family, children, and friends ‘isn’t that simple.’ This is the most frustrating and disappointing aspect of an otherwise powerful film.
However, even though Bleed For This features content most appropriate to an adult audience, its message and themes are for everyone. If you have a dream, then hard work, perseverance, optimism, and determination are all it takes to achieve it. It’s that simple.