Martin Scorsese serves as executive producer on this film, a feelgood boxing-comeback drama with superficial style borrowings from Raging Bull: sparring sessions going too far, family strife, fanatical dedication, woozy fight sequences, sans-serif intertitles. But this film – enjoyable though it is – doesn’t explore the real emotional pain that deeply, or at all.
Written and directed by Ben Younger (famed for the tough financial movie Boiler Room), it tells the true story of Vinny Pazienza, the boxing champ who in 1991 brought off what some believe to be the most extraordinary comeback in boxing history; after a car crash, he endured a broken neck, and the excruciating ordeal of a “halo” head brace, to train and then defend his junior middleweight title. (Later, Pazienza would fight Roberto Durán, whose own story is told in the forthcoming movie Hands of Stone, with Édgar Ramírez as Durán and Robert De Niro as coach Ray Arcel.)
Miles Teller is a tough and competent Vinny, Ciarán Hinds is his sorrowing dad Angelo and Aaron Eckhart sometimes looks like he’s channelling James Gandolfini, playing Vinny’s glowering coach Kevin Rooney. It never questions or qualifies its upbeat message, but it’s watchable, well-crafted stuff, strongly acted, with a very funny opening “weigh-in” sequence, as Vinny desperately tries to sweat off excess pounds with minutes to go.