Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Ron Howard.
Written by Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman. Running
time: 144 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense boxing violence
and some language). Starring Russell Crowe, Renée
Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Craig Bierko, Paddy Considine.
When this review was written, I gave the film ***1/2 stars,
and therefore it reflects that rating. Short version on second
viewing: the clichés bothered me more. It's still satisfying
in a totally old school way, and Crowe and Giamatti are still
in film pure filmmaking skill can overcome whatever flaws
the material might have. Such is the case in Ron Howard's
Cinderella Man, a traditional, almost mawkishly sentimental
crowd-pleaser. In less capable hands, the film would have
been a disaster; but thanks to tremendous work from Howard
behind the camera, as well as Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti
in front of it, it is a rowsing success, and an early Oscar
story of boxer James J. Braddock is perfect for film adaptation.
Braddock was a successful fighter in the early twenties, who,
after breaking his dominant hand and blowing several bouts,
was unable to find fights. When the Depression hit, he was
forced to work on the docks before his manager got him a test
fight against an up-and-comer, which Braddock won. This propelled
him into a series of fights that led to a championship bout
against heavyweight Max Baer.
here by Crowe, Braddock became a sort of shining beacon for
America, representing the ability of the everyman to overcome
all odds and find success. In this aspect, Cinderella Man
is very similar to 2003's Seabiscuit, but Howard manages
to invest a sense of real importance to Braddock's fights,
a feeling that was never present in Seabiscuit's races. During
the fights, the audience is transported to the time period;
every punch, every win, matters. It is incredibly difficult
to invest any suspense at all - let alone this much - in events
to which we already know the outcome, and that Cinderella
Man does this so well is a tremendous accomplishment that
is easy to overlook.
does a terrific job of establishing the setting. In Braddock's
apartment he dims the lights and mutes the colors, creating
a real sense of desperation and loss. We are shown an entire
Hooverville set up in Central Park, filled to the brim with
jobless, penniless men and women. Braddock befriends a Communist
dock-worker (Paddy Considine), who could have been a useless
caricature but is instead fully developed in his limited screentime.
Howard still takes the easy, sentimental route a little too
often. Some scenes - a conversation with Braddock's sausage-stealing
son; a trip to the welfare office - hold real power, but others
are hopelessly schmaltzy. The worst offender here is Braddock's
relationship with his wife, May (Renée Zellweger);
"You will always be the champion of my heart," she
says, and you can't help but roll your eyes.
even the most ridiculous scenes are grounded in Crowe's incredible
performance. Few, if any, living actors are as capable as
Crowe at letting a character take over every facet of their
being, and here he is playing a truly good man who
has beaten down by life. We can feel the weight of the world
on his shoulders - in each facial expression, each spoken
word, Crowe shows an acceptance of the bum deal he's been
dealt and an anticipation for the next bad thing that's going
to happen; when he finally finds success, his happiness is
is ably supported by Paul Giamatti, whose work as Braddock's
manager is a knockout*, so fast-paced and energetic that it
should make him an instant front-runner for Best Supporting
Actor. Other supporters, ranging from Considine to Craig Bierko
as fighter Baer, make strong impressions. The one weak link
in the ensemble is Zellweger, who fails to turn the struggling
wife archetype into anything more than a wide-eyed, crying
waif. She's not the first actress unable to hold her own against
Crowe - A Beautiful Mind's Jennifer Connolly is really
the only one to truly succeed - but it's still a disappointing
for its problems, Cinderella Man is just terrific filmmaking
in the classic sense - simple, compelling, poswerful and satisfying.
Cynical critics are quick to dismiss films that are sentimental
or blindly optimistic, but sometimes that's all we need to
be affected, and Cinderella Man is a perfect example
of this. Such an achievement is rare, and should be treasured.
definitely not intended; I'm no Gene Shalit. "Cinderella
Man won my heart in the first round!", etc.
2005 Matt Noller, not that anyone would ever want to steal