London Film Festival 2016 – Bleed for This

 

On the 9th of October, I had the amazing opportunity to go to the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival to watch the premiere of Bleed for This. It’s a pretty big digression from my usual articles surrounding video games, but this is definitely something that I wanted to document. I’m going to dedicate the first half of this article to my experience at a premiere, as it was my first one, and the second half will be about the film itself. Skip ahead for the review on the biopic movie about Vinny Paz.

Because I knew that the cinema at Embankment Garden had only just been put up specifically for the London Film Festival, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I got there. My mum and I rolled in, all dressed up and with a good amount of time to get a drink in before I suddenly heard someone shout “Aaron!”. I’m going to be honest, the director and actors in this film were not people that I feel like I’d become starstruck by, and I was right. As far as I was concerned, they were people that are in a film that I was about to watch, so there wasn’t really a sense of being amazed by famous people on my part. If I was somehow going to get Kit Harington’s number from Ciarán Hinds, that would be cause for a completely different article. However, I was still really excited by it all and their presence made the experience that much more special.

Miles Teller was whisked away whenever he was finished speaking to members of the press, which is completely understandable. He’s the star of the film, you can’t expect him to speak to everyone individually. Aaron Eckhart had his back, and he took the time to take pictures and sign autographs for people while everyone else was doing their part. My ‘selfie’ with Eckhart is one of my highlights of the day, and it makes me laugh because the main focus of the picture is that poor photographer’s head rather than myself or Eckhart.

Once they were done on the red carpet, we went inside and took our seats. My mum and I were sitting three rows from the front and we were unbelievably giddy at how good our seats were, and at how huge the cinema screen was. I can guarantee that any trip I take to a Cineworld is going to be underwhelming in comparison. Ben Younger (director), Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart and Ciarán Hinds stood at the front and introduced the film to the audience. Younger told us about some of the challenges faced when filming and for Teller in particular, who had to lose and gain weight rapidly for his role.

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As the film’s credits rolled, the quartet made their way back to the stage and there was a short Q&A with Terri White, our host, and the audience. I would have filmed the Q&A, but I wanted to experience it without watching it through the screen of my phone. Also, the British Film Institute have their own YouTube channel, which has the full Q&A in much better quality than my phone could have ever achieved. Hinds’ responses to the questions were adorably jumbled after he admitted that it was the first time that he had seen the film in its entirety. There was a great chemistry between the actors off camera, as evidenced by Teller and Eckhart bouncing jokes off one another in their recounting of the short filming process. You could tell that they all had built up a strong bond and friendship over the course of filming and attending these events together.

Something that I found interesting was that Vinny Paz was not as involved with the filming as one would have expected. Younger claimed that Paz was on set a few times but did not want to stick around as the shoots were long and arduous. While they were joking, I think this goes to show the amount of trust that the former boxer put in Younger, the crew and the cast as he did not feel the need to be a backseat driver. Paz was, however, in full correspondence with Younger during the writing of the script, which is most likely where he must have felt that his story was in the best of hands.

Overall, it was a great experience and I’d love to attend more events like this in the future. I love hearing about the stuff that goes into creating films, whether its the actors’ struggles or the funny things that happen. This definitely had an impact on how I viewed the film. Because of all the excitement, it was hard to watch the film with a critical mindset and so I will be undoubtedly biased in some senses, but I’m going to try to be as balanced as possible as I write about the film itself.

 

Bleed for This (2016)

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“Now go out there and show me how you do things. Show me how you lift. Show me how you fight. Show me who you are.”

I’m not usually one for films about sports, because I personally am not someone who watches sports, and the lackluster performance of Miles Teller in the even worse reboot of the original Fantastic Four (2015) had sky rocketed my doubts, but there was something that drew me to this particular film after watching the trailer. Of course, Teller’s skills shone in Whiplash (2014), and he wasn’t playing a fictional superhero with questionable powers this time around, but instead he was throwing himself headfirst into a gritty drama, portraying world champion boxer Vinny Paz (formerly Pazienza).

Teller plays Pazienza as cocky and obnoxious, as boxers sometimes are during their pre-fight talks and weigh ins, but despite this, Pazienza is shown to have had an admirable sense of family and community. Ben Younger talked about the Pazienza family during the Q&A following the film and called them ‘colourful caricatures’, which does indeed come across in the film. Katey Sagal played Louise Pazienza, the worrying mother who refused to watch her son in the ring and instead opted to sit in front of her many depictions of Christ during fights. Ciarán Hinds as Angelo Pazienza played him as a caring father who implemented tough love as a form of affection, but with an unwavering belief in his son who he viewed as a champion from day one. While some people may view their characterisations as a negative, Younger believed that this was central to their personalities and felt that these aspects of them had to be recognised. I respect the decision, but there were a few occasions where I found the Pazienzas to be overbearing, though it came from a place of love and no one is perfect.

There was a sense of predictability within the film, mainly for three reasons: it’s a true story, there is a layer of cliché over almost everything and the trailer gives away far too much. Because of this, the first half of the film felt a little bit like every other boxing film that I’ve watched. The arrogant boxer gets knocked down a few pegs by his opponents and the people surrounding them, until they pull through and perform better than ever, so on so forth. It’s a tried and tested formula in film, so you couldn’t really go too wrong other than the fact that it didn’t feel very original.

And then the near-fatal car crash happens.

“I know exactly how to give up. You know what scares me, Kev? Is that it’s easy.”

The crash looked so convincing. It was gruesome and that was a necessary detail. This film does a great job of indicating to you that this is a true story with the use of archival footage of Pazienza, and so to make the car crash scene and its aftermath as lurid as it was is the best way to show it. Teller himself talked about having been in a serious car accident while in his 20s and that two of his friends had been killed in car crashes during the Q&A, which is something that the audience can then hone in on. Car accidents are an unfortunate everyday occurrence, and with all of this apparent sense of cliché in the film, the audience need to remember that this is a true story. Seeing Teller as a bloody mess with his head limply hanging out of the car window serves as a powerful and shocking reminder that this actually happened, and they spared no detail.

Pazienza broke his neck in this accident and was told that he would be lucky to walk again, and so fighting was off the table. The fitting and eventual removal of the Halo (a circular metal brace screwed into the skull at four points and propped up with four metal rods, as pictured above) was a grisly ordeal, and Teller’s performance during the removal procedure was both, in equal parts, full of wincing and hilarity. After the Halo was first put on, the sense of defeat that Teller so competently illustrates with just his expressions is astounding. It’s around here that you come to realise that this isn’t just another boxing film, because the greatest moments are when Teller is depicting Pazienza out of the ring and his demonstration of his sheer ‘dogged determination’.

Aaron Eckhart as Kevin Rooney made for an interesting on-screen dynamic between both himself and Teller. As the film became a little less about boxing, it began to shed light on the influences and relationships between these people. The trust and belief that Pazienza and Rooney had in one another is forever shifting throughout the film, but it is because of this that there was a solid foundation for both of them to fall back on, and this is portrayed brilliantly by Eckhart and Teller. The friction between the two men is justifiable, and it is hard for the audience to take sides in this instance. With Pazienza’s serious injury, his resolve to disobey doctor’s orders to pursue his passion for boxing is more than praiseworthy, but Rooney’s initial inadvertence to potentially help Pazienza cause irreversible damage to himself is logical and understandable.

This story is considered one of the greatest comebacks in boxing history, but in reality it’s more than that. Paz’s conviction and persistence to return to the ring, continuing his training despite his condition, isn’t just an achievement for a boxer but it’s a true testament to a person’s willpower to never give up. Paz’s journey is inspirational, and Bleed for This captures the essence of what it means to resist admitting defeat, no matter what or how great the task is.

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