Written by Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Ron Howard
Running Time: 2:24
for intense boxing violence and some language.
Cinderella Man was an almost flawless
movie that is sure to bring home a lot of gold come awards season.
James J. Braddock was a contender for some boxing gold back in the late
1920s. He had a shot at the light heavyweight champ Tommy Loughran but lost
the match, and thus started his fall from grace. The Depression hit and
Braddock's boxing abilities also suffered due to various injuries. By the
early 30s his career had hit rock bottom, and his home life was on the
verge of collapse. He and his wife Mae, and their three kids, all lived in a
tiny shack, unable to pay the heating and electric bills, and forced to
add water to the tiny amount of milk they had available. Braddock's lowest
point was having to get assistance not only from the state of New Jersey,
but to go beg for help from his old boxing group. But he was a proud man
and if that's what it took to keep his family together, that was what he'd
have to do. By chance his old ringman and trainer, Joe Gould, was able to
put together a one shot only fight for Braddock against the number two
contender to the heavyweight belt. Braddock shocked everyone with that
fight, but his greatest feat was still to come. Pushing aside the naysayers
and critics, James J. Braddock was able to climb back into the ring, long past what should have been his prime, beat some of the top fighters in the industry and then, defeat the monster Max Baer in
one of the greatest upsets in boxing history.
Talk about a film with a pedigree. The Oscar winning combination of Ron
Howard and Brian Grazer directing/producing Oscar winners Russell Crowe and
Renée Zellweger and then you throw in Paul Giamatti who should have been
at least nominated for an Oscar last year. Add an uplifting true story
about a man who was on top of the world, fell to rock bottom, then fought his
way back to the top, and you have a can't miss film. Or, you have the
chance to completely fall on your face and make a movie that isn't nearly as
good as it should be (I'm thinking of The Terminal, which had
many of the same elements but had really bad moments.) In this case, Cinderella Man turned out to be the former; a
fantastic film that was extremely well written and all the actors involved
turned out terrific performances.
I've always been on the fence about Russell Crowe. I could never decide
if I liked him or not and I think some of that had to do with what I knew
about his personal life. I'm still not sure what I think of him
personally, but with Cinderella Man I've decided
that I like him as an actor. I don't remember the last time I was so
invested in a character. I could feel every emotion he felt throughout
the film, but it was one scene that blew me away. It's the scene where he
has to go to New York to the old boxing crew and beg them for money.
Right at the end, after some of the people have given him money, he spots his
old friend Joe off to the side. He goes up to Joe and there are tears in
his eyes, but he refuses to completely break down. Braddock was a strong
man, both physically and emotionally and you can see how hard this all was
on him but he refused to give up. Seeing the tears in his eyes while
asking his friend for money was heartbreaking and was the best acting moment
in the film.
When you make a film that has such an uplifting story, there is always the
chance that it'll cross over into the world of cheesiness. The best thing
about Cinderella Man is that it never
went into that world. There was a line or two that was over the top
('You're the champion of my heart') but the writers did a tremendous job making
sure that things stayed believable. I don't know how much of the movie
was fact and how much was creative license but I never felt like my emotions
were being manipulated. Everyone gave such an even performance and no one
went over the top. Renée Zellweger's character was the one that could
have put the movie over the edge, but no matter what happened, she never lost
her cool, even when she had to run outside and cry. She was scared for
her husband, especially going into the final fight, but she remained calm
and collected. And Paul Giamatti's character was a great foil for Crowe.
He had all the comedic lines yet still held the respect of Braddock.
Then there were the boxing scenes. Obviously in this story, boxing is a
key element and the fights were shot extremely well. It wasn't like a
Rocky movie where every punch sounded like a gun shot, and it didn't show
people beating the hell out of each other non-stop. It looked and felt like
an old school boxing match. A lot of tie-ups, some good one-two punches, and believable injuries, like breaking your hand on someone's head and having it affect you. There were of course some brutal scenes with some sever close-ups of people getting hit, and even one shot of someone dying in the right, but they flowed with the movie instead of being put in there for shock value. I believed Crowe as a
boxer and I loved Craig Bierko as Max Baer. Baer was an animal in the
ring and was as cocky as they come. He felt as if fighting a has-been like
Braddock was beneath him and he held on to that belief throughout the
entire fight. It was only in the last couple of rounds that fear started to
set in and even then the movie didn't fall into the cheese factor. Had you
not known the story going in, up until the decision was announced, you
were wondering if they were really going to give Braddock the gold.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I would highly recommend everyone go out and see Cinderella Man. It is easily the best movie of the year so far, and one of the best movies I've seen in the last decade.
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