Russell Crowe reunited with Ron Howard and my first reaction is “Hmm, somebody’s definitely fishing for more awards.” After the success of A Beautiful Mind, who could blame them? When the early marketing focused too much on the past success of Howard and Crowe, my doubt about the Jim movie began to grow. Isn’t it nice when your doubts are unfounded? While possibly not on the same level of Mind in the critic world, Cinderella Man delivers another knockout hit for the Crowe/Howard tandem.
Despite being an unlikable fellow in reality, Russell Crowe keeps churning out outstanding roles that draw me to the theatre. Crowe’s portrayal of a sports legend continues his streak of powerful cinematic performances. Cinderella Man is the story of James J. Braddock, a rising star in the light heavyweight boxing ring during the late 1920s. His rise up the ranks is coldly halted as the stock market crash of 1929 cripples the American economy. With a string of losses, injuries, and the end of his big paydays, Braddock suffers the same fate that thousands of other Americans felt during the Great Depression.
After losing his personal fortune, Braddock struggles to provide for his wife (Zelweger) and children while never fully giving up his dream of returning to boxing. Due to a last minute cancellation and a recommendation by his old manager (Giamatti), Braddock gets one last chance at glory and cements his place in boxing history.
It is Crowe’s portrayal of Braddock that keeps Cinderella Man from slipping into the clichéd territory of Rocky. Braddock fights, not for glory, but to provide for his family. Along the way, Braddock becomes a hero and gives hope to other people struggling to survive the times.
Come on; hope being a central theme of a movie? Hasn’t that been done to death? Yet, I found myself falling for it completely. Crowe’s accent and look is a perfect capsule of the time and his boxing style is a perfect copy of Braddock’s. Did it take me this long to finally mention the boxing matches? Don’t think this is some boring historical crap starring Brendan Gleeson (Seriously, that guy is in all of em). The boxing matches in Cinderella Man are hands down the best ever replicated on the big screen. The Braddock fights are for folks who grew up with Rocky but now require realistic boxing and not to mention better acting in their films. The film's stunning cinematography draws you into the ring, and leaves you feeling like you're sitting there in person. I’m not even a boxing fan, but I found myself completely thrilled by the action.
Besides Crowe and the boxing scenes, the other bright spot in this film is Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of manager Joe Gould. Some will question Giamatti playing the comedic wise ass in yet another movie, but it’s a good move for him. Fresh off critical praise for Sideways, Giamatti can cash in with a blockbuster that will be seen by a much larger audience. Unlike other roles he’s had in, Giamatti’s character is more than just punch lines; he does an outstanding job of showing the heart of Joe Gould. Zellweger is adequate enough as Braddock’s wife, I can think of dozens of actresses who I’d prefer to see in a movie, but at least she isn’t as annoying as normal. That’s high praise from me considering the sight of those cheeks usually causes me to suffer an uncontrollable eye twitch. Oh come on, you were thinking it!
Director Ron Howard has a knack for heartwarming tales that while sometimes dangerously close to falling into the “sappy” territory, always manage to build a bond between the viewer and the characters. A great example of this is his other “based on a true story” epic, Apollo 13. I cheered for the astronauts when the came back home and my heart raced as Braddock battled in the ring. If history bores you, see this for the fights. If you aren’t a boxing fan, you’ll be fascinated by the story and the acting. Cinderella Man, while it appeals to a wide audience, doesn’t compromise; a quality Mr. Braddock would be proud of.