In a sport which breeds no shortage of characters and in fact thrives because its low barrier to entry is alluring to some of the malcontents and odd birds and dented can human beings, Vinny Paz stood out in the upper echelon in the personality department.
Brash and crass and cocky and occasionally humble, he was, enough so he was able to connect with a mass of rooters who admired his plucky manner in the ring and the way he eagerly lunged for every opportunity afforded him.
His story would have some staying power, as the tale of an athlete who reminded that will could overpower a deficiency in pure skill, and carry a brave heart to a win in a scenario which would have a lesser being falter and waver and fail. Now, with the movie “Bleed For This” headed to wide release, Hollywood will ensure that the Vinny Paz story will get its just due over the ages.
Miles Teller handles the role of the Rhode Island resident who won titles at 135, 154 and the hearts and minds of fight fans and casuals when he surged back from a broken neck sustained in a 1991 car crash with admirable confidence. The flick is an independent production, done on a paltry $6 million budget, because when shooting started Teller wasn’t a big name and the makers shot in Rhode Island, where the cost of doing business allowed them to bang out shooting in 24 days.
The biopic but of course is run through a filter of artistic license. So Pazmaniacs shouldn’t expect documentary style accuracy. That’s not a knock; Teller didn’t use a body double in fight scenes against “Roger Mayweather” (aka Peter Quillin) and “Roberto Duran” (Edwin Rodriguez), and nobody will be scoffing at the action and dismissing it as film flammery.
Teller told watchers at an NYC screening Monday night that he learned to box from the guy who taught Will Smith to approximate Muhammad Ali, one Darrell Foster, who deserves extra props.
Boxing fans will enjoy Aaron Eckhart, who plays trainer Kevin Rooney, himself a reclamation project after being tossed from the Mike Tyson train. Rooney and Paz (50-10 record; retired in 2004) draw repeated chuckles with their warm interplay after Paz moves on from Lou Duva, and Rooney, battling a booze jones, hangs tough with Team Paz after the car wreck.
The makers chose to smooth out Pazienza’s rougher edges and aimed for a family style mood elevator, offering frequent scenes at the Pazienza dinner table which show a tight family unit. Vinny’s pop Angelo is flawed but loyal as all hell, and his mom is shown as a spiritual soul who stands by her men and is a rock of faith in the mission.
That this story made it to here is a marvel. Paz was a local hero who made some national noise, and helped keep the sport relevant during a time of flux, when Mike Tyson’s reign waned. To the filmmakers’ credit, the story of a guy who fought for a title 13 months after braking his neck, whose mettle had him bench pressing five days after the car wreck, that story is a welcome addition to a milieu dominated by super hero smashups and stuff that polling groups deem to have mass appeal. This film deserves a watch, and props, for reminding us all the immense power of heart and soul, of which Vinny Paz possess a Hall of Fame helping of.