There are no shortage of boxing movies and the familiar story of the rise to fame, only to lose it all through alcohol, drugs and women has been done before. The difference however with The Bleeder is Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber), the boxer on who’s life the film is based, best know for inspiring Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky (1976).
Chuck seemed to live up to his nickname as ‘The Bleeder’ and like Rocky, lead the fight more with granite chin than style and athleticism, as he continued to soak up the punches and move relentlessly forward. Wepner was never really taken seriously as a boxer and continued to work as a liquor salesman, but when he got a chance to fight for the heavyweight title, he made it count. He may not have won the fight, but the fact he managed to last 15 rounds in the ring with Muhammad Ali in 1975 was enough to make him a minor star, at least for a little while.
The style of the film reminds me of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), with both the voice-over monologue from Schreiber and tone in which the more comedic moments are played straight, leaving the viewer unsure whether they should laugh or feel sorry for the characters’ awkward misfortunes.
The film doesn’t show Chuck necessarily in a good light, but it would be hard to describe him as an anti-hero. Driven by his obsession for fame and acceptance, he gradually threw everything he had away due to his insatiable thirst for alcohol, drugs and women. I was impressed with Schreiber’s portrayal. He may not have the appearance, but he is believable in the role, playing Chuck with a naive and clumsy, but charming charisma. He may often come across as self-obsessed, but you still feel sympathy for him, as it could have easily been so different if he had taken the time to step back and take control.
Some of the best interactions in the film are played between Chuck and the main women in his life, which includes his wife Phyliss (Elisabeth Moss) and barmaid Linda (Naomi Watts). Moss is brilliant as his wife, who has an enduring love for Chuck, despite his downfalls. A scene where Phyliss confronts Chuck when she catches him trying to court another woman he met earlier, really shows the strength of her character and what she suffered to try and make it work.
Despite only having a supporting role, Watts is captivating once again as the barmaid Linda who Chuck often turned to for a sympathetic ear when he was at his lowest. There is a natural chemistry between their interactions on screen which is brilliant to watch.
The fight scenes in The Bleeder may not have the flair of some other boxing films, but saying that, I was never impressed with the original fight scenes in Rocky. Working to the strength of the film, director Philippe Falardeau concentrates more on the action outside of the ring, because that is where the film really packs a punch.
With so many boxing movies being released it is likely that The Bleeder will get lost among some of the more heavyweight contenders. It’s a shame because the film has some great performances from the cast who deliver an entertaining spin on the classic underdog story.