The Bleeder is crying out for more recognition. Just as capable as recent boxing dramas Southpaw and Bleed For This, its protagonist Chuck Wepner might not be big box office but his life is worthy of more attention.
Liev Schreiber is underrated. Forever the bridesmaid never the bride if you will. Ray Donavan might be his long running wage earner, but Schreiber has never really risen above the status of solid character actor. Featured in films including the recent Spotlight, Denzel Washington’s Manchurian Candidate and comic book fare X-Men Origins: Wolverine, there is little doubt Schreiber should be a star by now. Charismatic, ruggedly handsome without the chiselled abs or sandblasted jaw line of his contemporaries, he has the ability to disappear into a role and take you along with him.
With The Bleeder we get exactly that in a by the numbers biopic of boxing legend Chuck Wepner. One of only a few men to go the distance with Muhammed Ali in his career, Wepner also served as inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. Using stock footage from classic boxing matches and news broadcasts alongside a thumping Seventies soundtrack, we get period, place and character in spades. Ron Perlman’s trainer Al Braverman is pushy, obese, balding and verging on caricature but no less watchable for it. A wheeler dealer on Wepner’s behalf his self-interest is transparent and forgivable, while both actors work hard underpinning good chemistry with a believable friendship.
Elsewhere Elisabeth Moss does well opposite Schreiber, demonstrating a maternally feisty persona whilst ignoring the late night, womanising lifestyle of her on point counterpart. Training sessions and ringside camera work is bold, bloody and brutal in its attention to detail. There are no doubles in evidence here and Wepner’s trademark style remains clumsily effective against Pooch Hall’s Ali amongst others. Less convincing is Morgan Spector’s Stallone who although facially similar, remains neither an accurate impersonation, nor convincing homage to the actor who would become such a formidable force in later years.
However that minor quibble aside there is a wealth of good work here which never foregoes quality in favour of formula. With its authenticity assured, a dynamite performance grounding the film and some A-list support from Naomi Watts amongst others, The Bleeder is crying out for more recognition. Just as capable as Southpaw or Bleed For This, Wepner might not be big box office but his life is worthy of more attention than this Blu-ray release will give him. Some might say there is too much voice-over which tends to lend itself to lazy expositional segues, but for me it lifts the film and is reminiscent of Ray Liotta’s work in Goodfellas. That The Bleeder can also stand toe to toe with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights in terms of spot on period pastiche, is another reason to recommend this solid biopic anchored by an actor long overdue some A-list attention.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Philippe Falardeau
Written by: Jeff Feuerzeig, Jerry Stahl
Starring: Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Ron Perlman, Naomi Watts
Released: 2016 / Genre: Sports Drama
Country: USA / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed The Bleeder on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate UK. The film is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.