Cinderella Man

by Aaron on June 3, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

There’s something about sports films that make it impossible to leave a theater not feeling upbeat, and Cinderella Man left me almost giddy by its conclusion. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie for all the right reasons. A serious picture not dark enough to be a blatant Oscar plea in the fall, this film is the perfect movie for filmgoers looking for summer entertainment not stuffed wall to wall with explosions or superheroes. Sure it’s semi standard treacle from Ron Howard, but it’s story and production lift it far beyond it’s mediocre trappings.

Cinderella Man
3 & 1/2 Stars

Let’s get this out of the way right now: I don’t like Russell Crowe. I don’t dispute that he’s a fine actor at times, but there’s just something about him that gets on my nerves. Ditto for Renee Zellweger and her “oh, I just bit a lemon” face. I went into Cinderella Man with no knowledge of the film outside of it being a period piece about a boxer, and that it starred those two actors.

Man, was I in for a surprise.

Just don’t mock his poems

Cinderella Man tells the true story of Jim Braddock (Crowe), a heavy-weight boxer whose bright career was derailed by the Depression and a series of lackluster fights. Unable to secure any work capable of providing for his family, the once proud Braddock is reduced to public assistance and hitting up old boxing aquaintences to get by. That is until his former manager (Paul Giamatti, proving once again he’s one of the best actors in Hollywood) finagles a substitution bout for Braddock which starts him on the road to a title fight against the notoriously powerful champion, Max Baer.

On paper it’s easy to dismiss this film as the period piece Rocky and, to be sure, there are some parallels, but the factual account of Braddock’s comeback and eventual triumph is more powerful than Hollywood is capable of making up. Director Ron Howard proves once again that he’s an absolute master of populist entertainment on par with Capra. I know that’s a heavy claim to lay on Opie, but Cinderella Man should certainly solidify his reputation as a capable storyteller.

The period look suits Crowe, whose natural bulk lends itself to a time when boxers didn’t have multimillion dollar gyms to hone their bodies into chiseled slabs. Crowe looks natural in the ring, and Howard does an excellent job giving us boxing matches that are well shot and satisfyingly real. When Braddock faces off against Baer (a near unrecognizable Craig Beirko), every ounce of force each blow sends is felt, without resorting to thunderous sound effects or cartoonish results.

And against all of my expectations, Crowe turns in a note-perfect portrayal of a proud man trying to provide for his family while holding on to his dignity and self respect. It’s an understated performance which goes a long way to repairing my impression of the actor. Paul Giamatti is, as always, an absolute scene stealer. He’s an actor that I hope like hell will get more leading roles on par with Miles from Sideways, but his supporting work here might just be what pushes Oscar voters to make up for his losing the Best Actor to Jamie Foxx. His work here provides much of the comic relief, but it’s delivered by a man whose situation is just as desperate as Braddock’s, and his crusty demeanor belies a man who knows he’s just moments away from losing his own good fortune.

For once, Renee Zellweger’s pinched look finds a perfect home in Mae Braddock, and she looks utterly natural as a Depression era woman. She’s given little to do besides alternate between worrying about her family and encouraging her husband, but the few times she’s given scenes with any weight, she conveys the weary determination of a woman who will do whatever it takes to keep her family safe and sound.

There’s something about sports films that make it impossible to leave a theater not feeling upbeat, and Cinderella Man left me almost giddy by its conclusion. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie for all the right reasons. A serious picture not dark enough to be a blatant Oscar plea in the fall, this film is the perfect movie for film-goers looking for summer entertainment not stuffed wall to wall with explosions or superheroes.

Previous post:

Next post: