Director: Phillippe Falardeau
Script: Jeff Feuerzeig, Jerry Stahl, Michael Christofer & Liev Schreiber
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Elizabeth Moss, Ron Pearlman, Naomi Watts, Jeff Gaffigan, Michael Rapoport, Poogh Hall, Morgan Spector,
Running time: 98 minutes
Based on the true story of Chuck Wepner, a liquor salesman from New Jersey, who went 15 rounds in the 1975 heavy-weight world championship against, arguably, the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali, The Bleeder charts Wepner’s rise and fall as a dogged boxer who, during his rather fractured career, endured eight broken noses, 14 losses, two knockouts and a total of 313 stitches. Sadly, his toughest fights were often outside the ring where he lived a life full of excessive alcohol and wild women.
Wepner, played here with aplomb by the ever-watchable Liev Schreiber, is a wannabe boxer, better known for his ability to be able to take a pounding, despite being an easy bleeder, rather than for any real success. Well-liked by his hard-drinking mates, and the local women he frequently charms into bed, he’s not so popular with his long-suffering wife, Paula (Moss) or his frustrated boxing trainer/manager (Pearlman).
When boxing promoter Don King gives him a chance at the shot of becoming the next world champion – mainly due to the fact that they wanted a white guy and he was the only one on the books at a suitable level – Chuck throws himself into training, after first screwing things up with his wife by flirting with a waitress.
The press also give him a hard time calling him a house painter when compared to an artist like Ali! But, even though the odds are stacked against him at 40:1, he still manages to give a good account of himself in the ring and manages to withstand all the clobbering he takes from Ali and lasts the distance; back then a more gruelling 15 rounds, compared with the 12 that boxers have to endure these days.
Watching and taking notes was a struggling actor called Sylvester Stallone, who based his screenplay for a film called Rocky on the struggling Chuck Wepner. When the film turns out to be a massive success Sly tries to give Chuck a chance at being in the sequel, but Chuck manages to blow the audition by turning up drunk. Chuck soon finds himself with a wife who won’t talk to him, and who wants him out of her life, and a career that’s going down the toilet quicker than you can say the word ‘flush’.
Boxing stories have always had an allure to Hollywood screenwriters because so many boxers have had fractious lives both inside and outside the ring, and Wepner is no different. In fact, Wepner is almost a walking cliché, as a wannabe movie sporting hero, only in this case he’s the ‘real deal’.
Featuring a great cast led by Live Schreiber (Spotlight), who’s obviously a huge fan of Wepner as he also co-produced the film, and supported by the likes of Naomi Watts (Mullholland Drive), Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men) and Ron Pearlman (Hellboy, Cronos), it’s often the performances that are the glue that holds the film together. There really isn’t a bad performance here.
Director Philippe Falardeau (The Good Lie) presents us with a solid movie-watching experience aided by some excellent production design, particularly with regard to providing the audience with a great sense of period, since much of the film is set in the seventies. In fact, the 70s section is very much shot in the colour tones of the era, all browns, and oranges.
The soundtrack works well to underscore the visuals, with a nice range of 70’s funk, and there’s some clever usage of actual documentary footage to add extra gravitas to proceedings. I also enjoyed the rather fun ending where the ‘actor Chuck’ turns into the ‘real Chuck’.
The Bleeder is definitely a film for sports fans, and for boxing fans, in particular, although there’s plenty to enjoy here for the more casual viewer too.
Lionsgate are distributing The Bleeder on DVD and Blu-ray. There were no extras on the review disc.