The Rocky Balboa franchise is cemented in popular culture that there is no chance of procrastinating it. The film franchise is worth billions of dollars as the majority of people love this iconic character. Hence to produce a film about the real man that inspired the character of Rocky sounds like a great premise. A drama inspired by the life of heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner has a lot of potentials to grab people’s eyes, but the question lies within: Is it any good? Let’s just state, that there are intriguing moments as well as flaws.
Liev Schreiber as the lead has the right to play Wepner as he has similar physical features to the real-life boxer and he has studied the man from Bayonne, New Jersey to a high standard, adding on to the fact that he’s produced this film. One problematic feature is, Schreiber to many is not considered an A List actor. He is now considered decent TV property on the Mediocre show ‘Ray Donovan.’ This is what will stop ‘The Bleeder’ from making serious box office money and will only break even if the film is lucky.
To elaborate further on the plot, ‘The Bleeder’ teaches us that Chuck Wepner is a liquor salesman from New Jersey, who went 15 rounds in the stunning 1975 heavyweight world championship against the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali, and ultimately inspired the billion-dollar Rocky franchise. In his ten years as a boxer, Wepner endured eight broken noses, 14 losses, two knockouts, and a total of 313 stitches. But his toughest fights were outside the ring: living an epic life of booze, drugs, wild women, exemplifying incredible highs and extraordinary lows. Sound familiar?
Many will compare this to ‘Raging Bull’ and unfortunately, Schreiber has set himself up with a huge challenge to compete against Robert De Niro’s acting brilliance. Sadly, Schreiber does not meet up to De Niro’s standard of portraying Middle weight boxer Jake La Motta. Schreiber understands the theme of the rise and fall story, but doesn’t reach the depths that De Niro did with his character, let alone what Will Smith did with ‘Ali.’ It doesn’t feel that Schreiber didn’t endure the gruesome torture of eating, sleeping, breathing the character of Wepner. He just does a great New Jersey accent and does his best, but his best isn’t good enough. The viewer walks away slightly disappointed as they will immediately know, ‘The Bleeder’ will not garner one Oscar nomination and not be moved by Schreiber’s performance as he deserves only a B -.
What we will enjoy are the facts of Chuck Wepner’s life as his story is intriguing. To see ‘The great white hope’ of boxing to knock Ali down in the ninth round and last all the way to the 15th and eventually lose to Ali is very much parallel to the iconic Rocky character. The underdog story in which a rise will occur all the way to the fall is a story that many will be fascinated by. However, to learn that he doesn’t get paid a dime from the film franchise is where we sympathise with his frustration and why he didn’t get the recognition he deserved. One understands that turning to a life of drugs, alcohol and prison is sometimes inevitable when you come so near but yet so far from the success.
The most notable parts are Wepner’s interaction with Sylvester Stallone. The fact that Wepner tries his best to meet sly in the peak of his Rocky success is mesmerising yet uncomfortable to watch. The fact that Wepner had a chance to audition for Stallone for a small part in ‘Rocky II’ but failed to get is a heartbreaking scene, as he should’ve been given the part without auditioning.
Finally, the true merits of the film belong to the supporting cast. Elizabeth Moss’ performance as Phyllis, Wepner’s first wife is excellent as she captures being let down by Wepner’s adultery perfectly. Naomi Watts as Linda, Wepner’s salvation – the woman who caught his fall is also a true standout and Michael Rappaport as John; Wepner’s estranged brother is perfect to watch as his interaction with Schreiber spar off with sultry sibling rivalry. Sadly, it is the direction from Philippe Falardeau that is the anti-climax. He captures the 1970’s disco era effectively, but fails to capture the artistic ground that Martin Scorsese had for ‘Raging Bull.’ The film isn’t dark. It tells a dark story in a light-hearted way which is possibly not the best way to go for a film of this stature. All in all, the audience will enjoy the facts of this true story, but for any film enthusiast, it fails on creative storytelling due to the weak direction and a lead role that should’ve been played by an actor willing to sink his teeth into the role.
Aly Lalji | [rating=3]
Drama, Biography, Sports | USA, 2017 | 15 | 21st August 2017(UK) | Lionsgate UK | Dir.Philippe Falardeau | Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Ron Perlman | Buy: The Bleeder [Blu-ray]
Lionsgate UK presents The Bleeder on DVD, Blu-ray & Digital August 21st