Vinny Paz is a local legend, a boxing champion in the prime of his life who, against all odds, overcame a devastating spinal injury to not only walk again, but to get back in the ring and prove that you can’t keep a good fighter down. It’s no surprise that Paz’s story made it to the big screen – there are fictional boxers who have accomplished less than the Cranston native, even with the limitless imagination of directors and screenwriters propelling them to greatness. For Rhode Islanders, Bleed For This has been a long time coming. At last, Paz’s story, as portrayed by Miles Teller (Whiplash) in the film directed by Ben Younger (Boiler Room), gets the hometown premiere we’ve all been waiting for.
Two of the film’s stars, Teller and Aaron Echkart (The Dark Knight), as well as Younger, local producer Chad Verdi and Vinny Paz himself were at the local premiere last week at the Providence Place Mall to give Rhode Islanders their first look at a movie that’s spent years in the making. Seeing your hometown on the big screen is a treat when you don’t live in New York or LA, but this was definitely a special case. Mere minutes into the film, before Paz even makes an appearance, Angelo Pazienza’s (Ciaran Hinds) thick Cranston accent furiously corrects Roger Mayweather’s common assumption that Paz was from Boston. “We’re from Providence!” he barks. The crowd went nuts.
Produced by Martin Scorsese, who certainly knows a thing or two about making a boxing movie, Bleed For This delivers a sports comeback movie that feels familiar in more ways than one, which is both a blessing and a curse. As a movie it’s a solid underdog story of an athlete and his inner circle, overcoming personal demons and beating seemingly insurmountable odds, which is to say. But the other way this movie feels so familiar is really to its benefit: it gets Rhode Island. It gets the landscape and the scrappiness of its people. It more or less gets the accent, which is always tricky, especially in a room full of hot blooded Rhodies who won’t stand for a mangled kinda-Boston-kinda-New York approximation of how they talk.
The film has a look to match: gritty and intimate. Dinner scenes around the Pazienza family table are so cramped you can practically feel the actors elbowing one another on their way to another helping of gravy. The same goes for scenes when Paz and trainer Kevin Rooney are secretly training in the basement, bringing audiences in on their little secret. All of this works to its benefit. What Bleed For This lacks in the sprawling epicness of Raging Bull or the bittersweet arc of Rocky it more than makes up for in the way it shows family, warts and all, and the way a person with enough guts can achieve even the most unlikely of successes. What’s more Rhode Island than that?
Bleed For This opens in theaters on November 18.