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Cinderella Man Movie Review

originally posted many years ago

Fists slam into flesh, bloody spittle glide from fatten lips to steel
bucket and Russell Crowe as Depression-era boxer James L. Braddock is
in prime form with every defiant glower and muscle spasm. But for those
still traumatized by last year’s pugilist-theme flick, Cinderella
Man is true magic just one sucker punch or one misplaced stool away
from becoming a reality show.

No spoilers here of course, but a ringside seat to watch Crowe battle
opponents twice his size creates enough tension to make you want to
cover your eyes, not in the gamely "Fear Factor" way, but in the
heart-palpitating way that squeezes your stomach tight when someone you
care about crosses harm’s way. Love him or hate him in real life, Crowe
shines in this role as the New Jersey fighter, the "hope of the Irish,"
who has more heart than any of his brawny characters of films past. He
grunts less, is decidedly more vulnerable and is completely likeable.

Director Ron Howard knew that there was nothing more important than to
make the audience root for Braddock-the washed up boxer who bottomed
out early-in the way the working poor did in the 1930s when Braddock
received a second chance in the ring. But Cinderella Man skirts the
usual pratfalls that come with retelling the life story of a
larger-than-life man in the me-me-glorious-me style. (Remember how
Ruben "Hurricane" Carter’s met his lifelong mortal enemy as a young boy
surviving the streets in the titular Denzel Washington film?) That is,
if you overlook the disturbing quote that opens the film declaring
Braddock’s story to be the most interesting of all time.

When we first meet Braddock, he is an undefeated boxer paid with wads
of cash by his fast talking manager Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti). The
overindulgence of the Roaring Twenties gild their spacious home and
pucker the lips of his wife Mae (Rene Zellweger) and their three
precocious children (great performances by Connor Price, Sara Wilson
and Patrick Louis), so when it gives way to the starkness and
destitution of the Great Depression, the setting becomes a principle
part of the film.

Howard, who said he has always been fascinated by the Depression-era
comes into his own as a director with a previously absent edgy style.
He manages to capture the Steven Spielberg ability to tell a story
without words or overcompensation (a scene of some scruffy young
children patiently collecting water from a fire hydrant is juxtaposed
with another scene of Crowe walking past a posh hotel where
well-dressed kids run into their car carrying giant lollipops) and the
timing of dare-I-say Martin Scorsese in the many fight scenes. His
style is more confident. He does not rush through the back-story to
fill the movie with bone-cracking fights making this easily his best
achievement yet.

When the faith of Americans depleted waiting in long lines at the soup
kitchen or at the office of public assistance, Braddock is given a
second chance-a one-time fight with highly ranked opponent for $250.
And like Shirley Temple and Seabiscuit, Braddock became the
workingman’s hero and hope for the downtrodden. He didn’t fight for
fame or glory. Like he famously said at the press conference before the
biggest match of his life, he did it for milk-to feed his family.

Of course, re-teaming with Ron Howard brings back some familiar A
Beautiful Mind moments of over sentimentality, but with more verve.
Zellweger is explosive moving from a pushover "you got me at hello"
wife to a plucky survivalist. And Giamatti who starts out as a nasal
stereotype looking down at Braddock, the very boxer who earns him
money, becomes more redeeming as their friendship and plight

The film is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. It lives up to the
hype and surely is a contender for all.

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