Cinderella Man

| June 3, 2005

When you see a movie about sports you generally expect the same formula. Whether it is drama or comedy, truth or fiction, we generally see the underdog get kicked and then rise to the top. Witness The Bad News Bears, Seabiscuit, Major League, Rudy, Hoosiers – any sport, same mathematical formula. It’s in the solution to that problem that makes a movie dreadful (Rocky 4), watchable (Major League II), good (Sandlot), or in the case of Cinderella Man, the new film by Ron Howard, excellent.
Cinderella Man covers a 7-year period in the life of James J. Braddock, a middle weight boxer who came back from serious injuries to not only contend in the ring, but to excel against heavyweights, including Max Baer. It is set against the backdrop of the Great Depression when he lost not only his career, but almost his family. CM takes a very micro look at that era of our history and shows the effects on one family that was affecting most of the country.
You should know up front that if you are squeamish about fighting you should sit towards the back of the theater because it does get violent. But one of the amazing intricacies of this movie is the balance that Russell Crowe (playing Braddock) shows from the aggressive, hostile environment of his “work placeā€ to the absolute love and tenderness he shows to his wife and children.
As fight films go there is not much you can do (or much that has not been done) to make the action different, but Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Gung Ho, Apollo 13) has again created some masterful work. The editing, the sound (both should be nominated come Oscar time) and a couple of CSI-like visual effects bring us into the ring like no other film since Rocky.
If you are not a fan of boxing, you will benefit both from the radio play-by-play and from Braddock’s agent/coach Joe Gould played by Paul Giamatti (Private Parts, Sideways). Here is an early note to the Academy: Paul Giamatti. Supporting Actor. Nominate him and remember this performance in February 2006 when you mark your ballots. I could throw several adjectives (intense, perfection) to describe his statue-worthy performance, but I will leave you with an exclamation: Wow!
As a cast, Cinderella Man excels. Braddock’s wife is played by Renee Zellweger, who should, in my opinion, jettison the stupid Bridget Jones characters and concentrate on the dramatic films like Cold Mountain and Chicago. As Mae Braddock, I completely lost her in the roll and only saw a woman completely behind her man, with the confidence from knowing he was completely there for her. Craig Bierko (Dickie Roberts, Former Child Star) is fantastic as Max Baer and Bruce McGill (Animal House, Collateral) is wonderful representing the Boxing Establishment.
Cinderella Man is a movie that benefits from being seen in the theater. The action, the story, dialogue, sound, and messages are all worth spending the 144 minutes in the dark. It will be one of the very best movies of 2006 and will be considered a classic as time moves on.

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