Sometimes you just hit upon a movie you know you’re going to love. Here it is. As surely as any movie written or starring Simon Pegg (or even an actor that looks like Pegg) is going to be a going to be a stinker, The Bleeder is a knock-out. I’m not a big boxing fan. Yeh, sure I remember the Rumble in the Jungle and Ali v’s Frazier. I watched them on BBC in the same way that I later watched Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe playing tennis. I didn’t care who won and if I never saw another boxing or tennis match for the rest of my life I wouldn’t be bothered. So I’d heard of Muhammad Ali, I’d heard of Joe Frazier. I’d heard of George Foreman, but I hadn’t heard of Chuck Wepner. There’s no reason why I should. That would be the equivalent of expecting me to know who the tenth seed at Wimbledon was in 1974.
Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber) known as the Bayonne Bleeder was in the top ten of heavyweight champs in the early 1970s. He was known as the Bayonne Bleeder because he came from the city of Bayonne in New Jersey and when he fought he never went down, but bled copiously. In an early scene the fight ref asks to look at his eye injury. It looks like there’s too much blood and he’ll be asked to retire from the bout. His corner-man flings a towel over his bad eye and the ref looks at his other eye, which is also a slit running with blood, but he’s declared fit to fight. That reminded me of when a referee asked to see our stud football studs at the beginning of a match on the gravel parks. Martin McGowan showed him his good boot, with no aluminium studs in it, then put his hand on the ref’s shoulder as if to support himself, twirled around and showed him the same boot, but from a different angle. If we were making a movie of it, McGowan would have went on to score a hat-trick with his illegal boot. The Bayonne Bleeder also goes on to win his bout. There was talk of him getting a title shot and pay day against George Foreman, who’s knocking everybody out for fun and thought to be unbeatable. Chuck knows his chances aren’t good, but like most other boxers, he’s got a day job and it would be a big pay day. When Ali does his rope-a-dope on Foreman, Chuck things his chance of glory is gone.
He’s a delicious looking wife Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss) to support and they have a daughter they adore. He writes his wife poems telling her how much he loves her, but he’s a man’s man that likes to play. He’s took a toot of this new wonder drug they call cocaine and it really does make the routine day wonderful. Chuck also has problems keeping his hands in the mitts. He likes to go the full fifteen rounds with any willing female. Phyllis catches up with Chuck and one of his floozies in a diner. There was only going to be one winner.
Remember when Rocky chases the chicken, but can’t catch it. Phyllis dumps the Bleeder. She’s had enough and goes to live with her mother. Then this match comes. Don King plays the race card. Muhammad Ali after beating Foreman is on a high and they want to cash in on some easy money. Ali versus the Bleeder. It’s Chuck’s big chance to be heavy- weight champion of the world. We know that Rocky goes into serious training and starts hitting rumps of meat in the deep-freeze. Chuck goes to the Catskills and does what a real professional is meant to do, he trains hard and just hopes he’s be able to finish the fight. Odds of 40-1 are being offered for Chuck to go the full fifteen rounds. Phyllis his wife is back on board. And to quote another great film, Someone Up There Likes Me.
In the first fight after Foreman, Muhammad Ali fought Chuck. Chuck didn’t win. This isn’t Rocky, although the film was a what-if, what-if when Chuck really did put Muhammad down, Ali stayed down and Chuck became the new, white, heavyweight champion of the world, spawning a whole franchise of movies in which Rocky fought everyone from the Russians to the man on the moon and still bled and found himself, after a typically bruising and bleeding encounter, still on top of the world. For the record, Chuck lost and was knocked out with 20 seconds remaining of the fifteen rounds. A moral victory, of sorts.
Part of the greatness of this film is what happened next. Chuck snorted and womanised and pissed it all away. The teeny tiny figure of Sylvester Stallone (Morgan Spector) offers him a part in his latest movie, but the big, for real, Bleeder, can’t stay straight enough to make the cut. The next time Stallone offers to meet Chuck is when the former is filming his latest movie, Prison Break, in the same prison where Chuck is serving time for dealing drugs.
This being America, Chuck does find redemption in an old flame, Linda (Naomi Watts) who waits for him and puts him on the straight and narrow. Billed as Rocky for real, this is much better. WATCH and WEEP. No bleeding about it.