7 Boxes of Wheaties out of 10
“Bleed for This” is your standard everyman-underdog-surmounting-the-odds boxer story. It’s a plot you’ve more or less seen one time or another and it’s really the major limitation of the boxing film genre. It’s defined by the same clichés that it’s mired in. Cinematography can go a long way towards making it engaging despite that, but ultimately the film depends upon its performances. Consequently I had a good deal of hope for “Bleed for This” with Miles Teller in lead after his excellent performances in “Whiplash” and “The Spectacular Now.” And he does deliver a great performance, but it just isn’t enough to carry the film beyond being a decent boxing flick.
The same goes for Aaron Eckhart’s supporting role as Teller’s trainer. It’s a great performance but it just isn’t enough. Boxing films are ultimately dramas, just with extremely constrained plots. “The Fighter” is in my opinion the best boxing film in decades because of its performances. You have Christian Bale giving the performance of his already storied career, Mark Wahlberg playing a role he was born to, and an excellent supporting cast besides, including Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, and Jack McGee. Unfortunately in comparison, Miles Teller and the rest of the “Bleed for This” cast just drop the ball.
The film is, however, shot quite well. Its camera work is often beautiful and frequently contributes to making scenes work. However, I do have one major caveat and that’s the fight scenes. They aren’t expressly bad, but they’re a lot less engaging than they could have been if they were doing anything new and interesting. It’s not a major issue, but it detracts from a lot of moments that should have been high points in the film. This kind of rolls into my other issue with the film, and that’s the climax. They go for a triumphant rocky type ending and it really doesn’t work. It isn’t earned, and it makes the moment feel hollow, leaving the film to end with a whimper.
Interestingly enough some of the best editing decisions in the film come from its sound. They cut out the audio in the film twice, and both times it really works, which isn’t something that happens often. Additionally, its audio is key in making a few scenes as cringey and uncomfortable as they needed to be. Those scenes are so effective at being stressful largely because of the films smart use of its audio.
I know I have a lot of negative things to say about “Bleed For This,” but it really is a good boxing movie. With Miles Teller in lead, I’d hoped that it could have been a great one, but it’s still a very engaging and entertaining film, with good performances and good cinematography.