Taking a look at the life of Chuck Wepner, the real-life inspiration for Rocky Balboa, The Bleeder appropriately feels eclipsed by greatness. It stands in shadows that include the legacy of Muhammad Ali, the Rocky films, and the style of Martin Scorsese, which the film slavishly tries to imitate.
As seems to be the fashion these days among actors wanting to be taken seriously, Liev Schreiber transforms himself as Wepner, wanting to get hit for real in front of the camera. Schreiber is a good actor, but The Bleeder is definitive proof that “Method” is not always the best way to go. His performance comes across as wannabe Raging Bull-era De Niro. Another issue of faux-Scorseseism with the film is its reliance on voiceover narration to compensate for the emotionally flat scenes. The maxim “show don’t tell” is out for the count early on in the script. It takes great writing for voiceover to work, and Jeff Feuerzeig is not up to the task.
The script portrays Wepner as an egotistical asshole, whose womanising and drug abuse is borne out of latent insecurities. It has the potential to be intriguing, but the arc never feels complete. The root of his inferiority complex is implied as an afterthought towards the end, and his journey to forgiveness is rushed. Because of this, Wepner’s eventual redemption feels hollow and undeserved. That is not a judgment on the real-life Wepner, but the filmmakers’ shoddy approach to their craft.
When compared to Creed, it becomes clear that The Bleeder will quickly be forgotten. It may be somewhat fitting, seeing that the film consciously reminds the audience that Wepner himself is a relatively minor character in boxing history. However, that shouldn’t excuse the film’s failure to be compelling.
CAST: Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Elisabeth Moss, Ron Perlman, Jim Gaffigan
DIRECTOR: Philippe Falardeau
WRITERS: Jeff Feuerzeig, Jerry Stahl
SYNOPSIS: A drama inspired by the life of heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner.