The Bleeder Blu-ray Review

Liev Schreiber in The Bleeder

The boxing genre has long been a staple of the sports movie, from the 1940’s right up to today. Halfway through this year, and we’ve already seen the likes of Bleed For This and Jawbone grace the screens.

It therefore takes something special for any new contender to truly make their mark.

Sadly, for Philippe Falardeau’s The Bleeder (also known as Chuck), this is not necessarily the case.

The film tells the true-life story of Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber), a heavyweight boxer from Bayonne in New Jersey.

Born in 1939 and growing up in a rough neighbourhood, we learn that Chuck soon discovered a special talent: he could really take a punch. Hence the nickname.

Jumping forward to the seventies, and Chuck has long since turned professional, facing the likes of George Foreman and Sonny Liston, receiving endless stitches for his trouble.

In 1975, Chuck’s trainer Al Braverman (a nearly unrecognisable Ron Perlman) says he has good news: an upcoming fight between Chuck and Muhammad Ali for the world Heavyweight title.

Like most of boxing world, Chuck thinks triumph is unlikely, but all he wants to do is go the distance.

The fight earns Chuck a new level of fame, something which does not go unnoticed by a young actor by the name of Sylvester Stallone.

1976’s Rocky proves a huge success, and Chuck hears from Stallone that he was the inspiration for the character.

Chuck hugely enjoys his new status as minor celebrity, and before long we see him fall foul of drugs and women, to the detriment of his marriage.

As Chuck, Schreiber is fantastic, imbuing the character with much charisma and likeability, despite the drug use, wife-cheating and general squandering of chances.

Through Schreiber, much-needed levity is added to what could have otherwise been a thoroughly depressing tale. The portrayal of Chuck’s downfall is relentless in pace and excruciating to watch.

Elisabeth Moss and Naomi Watts both give solid performances as the women in Chuck’s life, respectively coming across as vulnerable with a tough interior and vice-versa.

Supporting turns by Pooch Hall as Ali and Morgan Spector as Stallone are brief but impressive, and alongside Nicolas Bolduc’s seventies-drenched cinematography, anchor the film’s yesteryear atmosphere.

There are many aspects to the film. On the face of it, it’s a boxing biopic. But it’s also a study in celebrity. Chuck doesn’t seem to care about the money from the Ali fight, or any royalties due from the Rocky movies. His true reward instead is to re-watch his own fights, see himself on the big screen and have people know his name.

On a more meta level, here we have a big-screen biopic about a boxer who is obsessed with films like 1962’s Requiem for a Heavyweight, who then finds himself the subject of a movie.

Overall, there are solid performances and a strong sense of time and place, and it is heart-warming that Chuck can finally now see his own name in the cinema listings, but ultimately nothing really sets this film aside from the usual rise and fall trajectory of the genre.

Conor Brennan

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August 2017
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