TELLURIDE, Colo. — Last year Open Road Films left Venice with “Spotlight” and took a Telluride detour before bringing the film to Toronto shortly thereafter. At the time it felt, at minimum, like the distributor of quality indies that hadn’t penetrated the best picture race — “The Grey,” “Nightcrawler,” etc. — was on its way to finally cracking the lineup. As we now know, a mere nomination was to be the least of “Spotlight’s” honors on Oscar night.
A year later, Open Road is back, this time with a world premiere in Ben Younger’s “Bleed For This.” A biopic about boxer Vinny Pazienza, who in 1991 suffered a broken neck in a car crash that forced him to relinquish the WBA World Jr. Middleweight Championship, the film tells what on its face is a familiar story: Pazienza opted out of fusing his neck, instead having a Halo installed, and trained on the sly for a triumphant return.
But if the narrative sounds conventional, its telling certainly is not. In fact, Younger seems eager to break it out a bit with sharp, flashy editing that fiercely propels the story and innervating cinematography that gives it a free-form aura.
Miles Teller stars as Pazienza, and he seems tailor made for the role. He’s also likely to be the focus of any awards attention the film might receive, as this year’s best actor landscape seems, from afar, like a real opportunity for scrappy contenders like this to make a play. As he was in Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash,” Teller is immersed here, committed, feverish in his depiction of someone high on life and celebrity.
Many will also be talking about Aaron Eckhart’s turn as Pazienza’s embattled trainer Kevin Rooney, who trained Mike Tyson from 1985 to 1988. He was also an alcoholic, with demons of his own. Eckhart is great in the role, and pulls double duty at the fest this year, also appearing in Clint Eastwood’s “Sully.” But as Pazienza’s father, Angelo, Ciaran Hinds finds a lot of layers that perhaps give his character more definition than any other on the screen.
It will be interesting to see how Telluride audiences react, because “Bleed For This” could have an innate ability to please crowds. It’s an intangible quality to gauge in a lonely screening room, but as a discovery for attendees here, it might be a break-out. There’s certainly nothing else like it on the lineup.