From the point of the view of someone that really isn’t a sports person, or interested in films about sport (Other than ice dancing movies, they are my niche), I went into this film not expecting much. I came out of being surprised at how much I had enjoyed it. Based on the true life experience of American boxer Vincent Pazienza, it’s one of those come-back stories you cant help enjoy.
The film, which takes place in Rhode Island in 1988, is about Vinny, played by Miles Teller (21 & Over, Whiplash) who is a boxer no one assumes anything of. He has already won a world title belt and not much else had been going right for him in the ring, so much so that even his own coach announces that he should retire. This leads Vinny to the door of similarly past-his-prime boxing coach, Kevin Rooney played by Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight). While making progress and with a prominent title fight on the cards, Vinny gets into a car accident and fractures vertebrae in his neck leaving him with a halo neck brace, screws in his skull, and very little hope. Vinny is told by doctors that we will never fight again but in true Hollywood fashion, spoiler alert, he does.
Written and directed by Ben Younger, the film is fairly predictable and perhaps a little drawn out, but there are funny moments that lighten the mood of an otherwise pretty sombre movie. Younger isn’t exactly a prominent name in Hollywood with small successes with films like Prime and The Boiler Room under his belt. The screenplay for me fell a little bit flat considering there was such great raw material with which to work, but one thing Younger does well is the set up for the boxing scenes. Quick jab movements and under view camera shots make the experience almost visceral and allow the actors to show us what they can do.
The shinning achievement of this film without a doubt are the performances by the lead actors. Those who saw Miles Teller in Whiplash will know that Teller is an actor that can handle dramatic content but in this film he is almost on another level. With his emotional weight and natural charm Teller breathes life into the character of Vinny, and effectively portrays the tough road to recovery Paz made. Similarly, Teller’s supporting cast are phenomenal. Aaron Eckhart and Ciarán Hinds who plays Vinny’s father Angelo Pazienza, give memorable performances in their respective roles, each going out of their comfort zones with their character choice. Portrayed usually as the svelte love interest, Eckhart gained a substantial amount of weight, about forty five pounds, to play the down and out, alcoholic boxing coach. Not only was the physical transformation fantastic, but Eckhart’s performance was just as mesmerising. Likewise, the usual villain, Hinds plays a much more smarmy, womanising character in the film, nevertheless, he pulls no punches (pardon the pun) when it comes to the heartfelt scenes between father and son.
The film itself is the personification of a great come-back story. However, there are some flaws in the formula. Firstly the film is just over two hours long, and for the story being told, it could have been done in a more succinct fashion. Secondly, I understand that yes, it is a film based around the boxer Vinny Paz. I understand that. The only thing I don’t understand is why the representation of women in this film is so abysmal. With a limited female cast, we are only really presented with either Vinny’s mother Lousie played by Katey Sagal, who doesn’t really do very much, the slew of big breasted bimbo’s that play Vinny’s girlfriends, or strippers. The only female character that has any sort of humour or fire to her in Vinny’s sister and there are very few moments when she is actually on screen.
Though this film wont be passing the Bechdel test, it was an all-around enjoyable movie. Anyone that is in any way interested in boxing will enjoy this film, and it does have a great balance between light and dark moments. The cast is outstanding and the screenplay is good to an extent. I enjoyed it while I was watching it but I definitely wouldn’t be jumping out of my seat to go and see it again. If you’re into sports and a fan of any of the actors listed then this film will work for you. If not, maybe go and see something else.