Monday 21 August 2017


Out now on DVD and Blu-ray is the story of Chuck Wepner, the boxer many people called "the real life Rocky", including himself whenever he saw the opportunity.

The saying goes that all the best sports movies aren't really about sports, well The Bleeder is a movie about a sports movie, so where does that leave us? Based on the life of Chuck Wepner, a boxer who was given a title shot against Muhammad Ali in 1975, and although he didn't win (not a spoiler), the fact he lasted until the 15th round against one the greatest fighters of all time was enough to make him a folk hero in his home state of New Jersey.

Getting a taste for fame as the so-called "Heavyweight Champ of New Jersey", Chuck started to enjoy all of the benefits that came with his newly minted persona, leaving his wife Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss) and child at home. Promising to stop his boozing and womanising ways, things only get worse when Chuck hears about a new film that bears more than a passing resemblance to his own life; Rocky. Soon he's back out on the town claiming to be the real life Rocky, lapping up the attention he can get and hoping to make contact with Sylvester Stallone to talk about some royalties.

The film's title The Bleeder refers to the derogatory nickname Wepner was labelled with before his rise to fame (the man could take a punch, but not without some damage), and although out of context it makes the film sound like a cockney gangster thriller, it's at least more descriptive than the films US title, Chuck, which last time I checked was a TV show about a nerdy CIA super spy.

As a film about outward displays of damaged masculinity, it couldn't have a better cast. It's saying something that the most well-rounded and articulate male character in the film is the brief appearance of Sly Stallone (in an impressively accurate performance by Morgan Spector), with Schreiber's Chuck and Ron Perlman's Mickey-esque boxing trainer, Al, both looking and acting like they've been raised in the boxing ring. The film shows Chuck watching the Anthony Quinn movie Requiem for a Heavyweight, and Quinn's gruff masculinity is very much the model for Schreiber's performance. Strong, closed off; a walking meat slab of neurosis and internal demons.

It's clear that this has been a passion project for Schreiber who as well as starring has a writing credit, and among the supporting cast is his former real life partner, Naomi Watts. Playing Linda, a sassy, brassy barmaid who pops up at convenient intervals in Wepner's life, it's pretty clear what her character's purpose is as soon as she appears on screen; and although their relationship is the closest thing Chuck has to a Rocky/Adrian romance, it's hard to shake the feeling that this is where the most dramatic license has been taken. Schreiber and Watts have obvious, palpable chemistry, but their story together smacks of retconning to appease their real life counterparts, which is at a detriment to the drama of the film. Likewise, the cordial relationship between Wepner and Stallone displayed seems like the product of legal intervention.

Putting that aside, the brief boxing scenes are affective, and there is a narrative drive in seeing where Chuck and Rocky's life stories intersect and where they differ wildly. Despite what Wepner and the blu-ray box art would tell you, although they share similar underdog rises to fame it's the fact that Wepner, with all of his flaws, is not a real-life Rocky that makes him an interesting, watchable man. With echoes of other 'be careful what you wish for' films like Boogie Nights, Goodfellas and Wolf of Wall Street, it's the performances that make The Bleeder a successful story of a man obsessed with his own fame.


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