The Bleeder (formerly titled Chuck) could have so easily been another sporting biopic by numbers, but Director Philippe Falardeau delivers an exquisitely crafted film led by a never better Liev Schreiber.
Hollywood has never fallen out of love with making underdog stories from the sporting world. From that sub-genre, the boxing movie has remained a cornerstone since a then unknown Sylvester Stallone won (and wrote) himself a role that would define his career, Rocky Balboa. While Stallone has frequently contested the fact the that the legendary fight between Chuck Wepner and Muhammad Ali formed the basis for his breakout role, the similarities are too insurmountable to ignore.
To say New Jersey born boxer Chuck Wepner (Schreiber who also co-wrote the script) had a tough life would be an understatement, and it was a volatile upbringing that made him the formidable showman he was. “His whole life was a million to one shot” exclaimed the poster for Rocky, and the same can be said for Wepner, a man who was written off by his peers on multiple occasions and even though the heavyweight title eluded him, the fight against Ali changed his life.
Liev Schreiber delivers a towering performance as the Chuck Wepner, set in the 60s and 70, Falardeau serves up an authentic looking period film that captures the spirit of the era. For a boxing movie, there is a sparse amount of in ring action and not even the faintest sign of a training montage. Fight fans are eventually rewarded for their patience with a pulse-pounding recreation of the title match with Ali.
Wepner had eight wins in a row under his belt before going toe to toe with Ali, and his ability to take a beating in the ring made him a formidable opponent. Despite this, Wepner wasn’t deemed a serious contender for the title, but he withstood 15 brutal rounds with Ali. Wepner wasn’t the greatest boxer in the world, but he was a consummate showman, and his willingness to take a beating in the ring assures his place in the history books of boxing.
The Bleeder might not reinvent the boxing genre, but when it’s this well crafted and heartfelt, there’s no need to change the winning formula. Ultimately, it’s the lead performances from Schreiber, Elizabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, and the ever reliable Michael Rapaport that makes Philippe Falardeau’s film a cut above the rest.
The Bleeder is out now on DVD, Blu-ray, and HD Digital.