Philippe Falardeau (director)
Lionsgate UK (studio)
11 August 2017 (released)
11 August 2017
Boxing films are notoriously difficult to pull off. The stories and characters tend to be samey, rags to riches to rags, with grizzled trainers, sneaky managers and one or all of the following drugs/women/alcohol. They also with some inevitability are under the shadows of Raging Bull and Rocky, one a biography, the other a fiction but with a story adapted from real events.
It’s the latter that’s of interest here as The Bleeder is the nickname given to Chuck Wepner a middling heavyweight fighter who through luck and racial politics got a fight with Muhammed Ali in 1975. He remarkably lasted 15 rounds inspiring Sylvester Stallone to create Rocky.
Those facts are possibly the most interesting elements of this film as Wepner played by Liev Schreiber isn’t in himself that interesting a character. A boxing, liquor salesmen who on hitting the big time lets his enlarging ego lighten his wallet so is forced to peddle the drugs he uses, with the inevitable consequences.
So it’s a fairly familiar set up taken with the destruction of his first marriage to Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss) because of his philandering – he does have way with the ladies. To his local and national hero status after the fight, his downfall being convicted of cocaine offences to his redemption and love for his second wife Linda (Naomi Watts).
Schreiber’s voiceover is unobtrusive in contrast to the arrangement of the soundtrack and songs which are heavy handed and disrupt the flow of the film. However, notwithstanding that director Philippe Falardeau has got an eye for the era and the 70’s period: Kojak’s on the telly! And the film is peppered with some nuggets as when Chuck tries to reconcile with his bewildered brother and his initial meeting with Stallone (Morgan Spector), and later on when he tries out for a part Stallone has put him forward for after a night on the tiles.
As to the big fight with Ali (Pooch Hall), this looks as convincing as it is ever going to as both Hall and Schreiber are boxers. There’s the added bonus of Chuck’s trainer Al Baverman (Ron Perlman) in the corner as mentor, trainer and general growler.
Hall has the very difficult job of portraying one of the most charismatic sportsmen that has ever lived, which he carries off. Schreiber is no less challenged teasing out the subtleties of a generally likeable, but deeply flawed, man who is suddenly hit by fame and fortune, whose frailties are exposed, very publicly.
It's an entertaining film though boxing aficionados may possibly get more out of The Bleeder than more casual viewers.