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The Bleeder review – Liev Schreiber is a knockout as the schlub who inspired Rocky

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This meandering drama about Chuck Wepner, the journeyman boxer who went 15 rounds against Muhammad Ali, proves theres still lots of life left in the genre

Hollywood keeps forcefeeding the public boxing movies at an alarming rate. Last year brought Southpaw, as well as Creed, which resurrected the Rocky franchise in rousing fashion; already this year, weve been treated to Hands of Stone, soon to be followed by Bleed For This. Enter The Bleeder, a third major film in recent months to feature the sport.

Philippe Falardeaus drama, however, is not a conventional boxing film. Theres no victorious final round, no hard-won retribution, no training montages in fact, theres hardly any boxing at all, except for a segment where our hero, New Jersey knucklehead Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber), gets beaten to a bloody pulp by Muhammad Ali, with whom he endured 15 brutal rounds in 1975.

Wepner served as the inspiration for the iconic character of Rocky Balboa, but as The Bleeder makes painfully clear, the blue-collar worker was no star athlete. Often referred to as the Bayonne Bleeder, Wepner earned his dubious celebrity on account of his ability to take punishment without going down. On top of getting pummelled by Ali, he also took blows from George Foreman and Sonny Liston.

I just got to show I belong I dont care about getting hurt, he says to his second wife Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss), on his way into the ring with Ali. In The Bleeder, Wepner isnt as a boxer; hes a shameless showman, willing to get bruised to a bloody pulp, just so long as his sacrifice delivers a killer show.

Liev
Played with cocksure swagger Liev Schreiber as Chuck Wepner in The Bleeder. Photograph: Tiff

Wepner, played with cocksure swagger by a beefy and imposing Schreiber, often lets his ego get the best of him. If he sees a pretty broad in the street, chances are hell try to sleep with her, wooing his conquests with lofty boxing tales. Once Sylvester Stallone appropriates his life story for Rocky, Wepners head grows to even bigger proportions, despite the fact he had to fight for any form of payment. Eventually, Chucks philandering ways finally catch up to him, forcing Phyllis to kick him out of the house once and for all, and leaving Wepner a drug-addled mess.

Even as his life descends into chaos following the breakup, Falardeau (The Good Lie) keeps The Bleeder distinctly jazzy, peppered by a countless slew of jams from the era, and the inspired use of archival footage from the time to visually contextualise Wepners world.

Falardeau draws exceptional character work from his cast. Schreiber is so good you wish hed lead more films, while Moss is fiery as always, owning her thick Jersey accent like nobodys business. Matching them is Schreibers real-life partner Naomi Watts, whos great fun as a red-haired bartender who acts as a sort of saviour to Wepner.

The Bleeder meanders a bit as it goes along, much like Wepners up-and-down life but its never boring.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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