The Bleeder: film review
Paul Zanon reviews the new biopic of cult heavyweight hero Chuck Wepner, released on DVD and BluRay on Monday 21 August...
Chuck Wepner had his nose broken eight times and endured a grand total of 313 stitches over his 51 fight career (35-14-2).
If those facts don’t grab your attention, then the booze-driven, drug-fuelled, womanising Wepner, played by none other than Liev Schreiber in Philippe Falardeau's entertaining new movie The Bleeder, should do.
You may have figured out by now that there might be a correlation between that number of stitches and the title of the movie….and you’d be correct. 'The Bayonne Bleeder', to quote Wepner's full pseudonym, was, and still is, a larger than life character who did the lot - from liquor salesman to professional boxer, to having that ‘Rocky moment’ of nearly going 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali and (arguably) knocking him down with a body shot, on 24 March 1975.
Hold on – did I just say Rocky?
Well, legend has it that the 'Rocky' concept evolved from that night of boxing in Richfield, Ohio, with the knockdown from Wepner inspiring an out of work, yet ambitious actor who was watching. He loved the idea of the underdog who had a shot at the world title against a legend and almost shocked the world. The name of said actor? Sylvester Stallone.
Hats off to the cast for adding authenticity to this film. Schreiber, currently one of Hollywood’s biggest names, got into decent shape for the film. The 49-year-old not only mastered Wepner's look, but possesses the necessary swagger and presence on screen which makes you believe you are getting a piece of Chuck 'for real.’
Schreiber has made a big splash with his recent role in the Showtime drama Ray Donovan, but this is not his first outing in a boxing biopic, having previously played the part of friendly attorney Sam Chaiton in the life story of Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, staring alongside lead actor Denzel Washington.
Twenty one years later, and with what looks like 21lbs of muscle added, Schreiber pulls off Chuck’s role with conviction. Naomi Watts is also in good form alongside him, as is fellow Ray Donovan cast member Pooch Hall (who incidentally won the Southern New England Golden Gloves in 1994), who plays the part of Ali.
For me though, from an authenticity perspective, Morgan Spector steals the show with a portrayal of Stallone which is right on point. Close your eyes and you could be easily misled into thinking 'Sly' was in the cinema with you.
The only downside of the film from a boxing purist’s perspective is the lack of boxing detail outside of ‘that’ one fight.
Furthermore, although the director, producer and script writer have done an excellent job of translating Wepner's life on to the big screen, they make him out to be a worse fighter than he actually was.
Was he world-class? Absolutely not in a hundred years, but if you take a look at the names he fought, his CV shows more depth than a bar room brawler. Notable losses include against Joe Bugner, George Foreman and Sonny Liston, while his best win was a points victory over former WBA heavyweight world champion Ernie Terrell.
Bottom line – would I recommend watching this film? Absolutely. If you are looking to kick back, learn a little bit about Wepner, indulge in a few laughs and smiles through the Hollywood lens, then this is for you. However, if you’re looking to find out more about Chuck the boxer, then go on to Boxrec.