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USA 2004
Directed by
Ron Howard
144 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Cinderella Man

Synopsis: During the Great Depression a former prize-fighter, James J. Braddock, (Russell Crowe) down on his luck and with his career seemingly over, returns to the ring in a last-ditch stand to support his wife, Mae (Renee Zellweger), and their three kids. Encouraged by manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti), he shows the meaning of strength and determination in the face of adversity.

Boxing movies are not everyone's cup of tea, but this, like Million Dollar Baby is about much more, and, unlike that film, has the added advantage of being a "true" story. It is the story of everyday heroism, rather than merely sporting heroism, Braddock, as portrayed in the film and according to all accounts, being a decent, honest, and generous man, driven to do what he did out of love for his family rather than for personal aggrandisement.

Russell Crowe has played an amazing variety of characters and there's no doubting that he has developed into a magnificent actor. Despite his high profile on and off the screen, here he immerses himself in the humility and charm of this common man, and given that "nice" can be hard to play, he does it flawlessly. His sensitivity in the way he relates to his kids and wife is also touchingly portrayed. Crowe's boxing prowess is very impressive - months of training and studying the real Braddock's style have paid off, whilst the authenticity of the boxing scenes are much to director Howard's credit. The cinematography take us into the thick of the fight, (some cameramen even copped a punch!) and tension abounds in each and every fight scene, despite knowing the historical outcomes. Especially thrilling is the fight between Braddock and Max Baer (Craig Bierko), a fighter renowned for having killed a man in the ring.

Howard's depiction of Depression America is very effective, with a heartfelt glimpse into middle class lives being turned upside down and down-and-out workers desperate for any kind of job. The gritty look and feel of the times is powerfully conveyed through lighting and camerawork, and not just as an overview, but within the context of one family's struggle. The set design is excellent, as are the costumes, and all combine to create a very rounded impression of that era in New York.

Ron Howard (who previously directed Crowe in A Beautiful Mind) is a slick mainstream director who can err on the side of schmaltziness and sentimentality. Predictably enough then, whilst there is an hard-won grittiness and verisimilitude to this film, it also has moments that are simplistically upbeat and so typically Hollywood. Supporting actor Renee Zellweger is unfortunately also a stumbling block for me. She has a simpering quality about her, and when she declares to Braddock "You are the champion of my heart" I wanted to cringe. Paul Giamatti is splendid as Gould, but the inclusion of a dockside unionist, played by Paddy Considine, seems gratuitous to the plot.

No surprises here but nevertheless if you are looking for a film which is uplifting and inspiring, and in today's world that can't be a bad thing, with a knock-out lead performance, this should make for a good night at the flicks.




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