Monday, April 03, 2006

CINDERELLA MAN

Russell Crowe Cinderella Man Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Russell Crowe
Reviewed by Byron Merritt

THUMBS UP! THUMBS UP FILM REVIEW RATING!

Cinderella Man is the story of human victory over seemingly impossible odds. Russell Crowe plays legendary boxer James J. Braddock in Ron Howard’s well directed film based on the life of this astounding man.


Set during the Great Depression the film takes on the tone of loss as we witness Braddock’s initial rise in the boxing ring and then his rapid decline during the disastrous economic punch that landed a low-blow to America and the world. Millions are out of work and on the street. Families are ripped apart. But Braddock and his wife Mae (played by Renee Zellweger) will do anything to keep their heads above water while remaining morally upstanding citizens.


Like many families, the Braddocks have to sell just about everything to stay alive. And once everything of value is gone, Braddock has to work at the back-breaking docks, but even that’s not enough to sustain them. Braddock is forced to beg for money from acquaintances, and this is a terribly humiliating event to watch. But if that wasn’t enough, he has to go to the government office for public assistance.


Then a glimmer of hope arrives. His old manager Joe Gould (the awesomely intense Paul Giamatti) offers him one last fight with a heavyweight title contender. The assumption is that Braddock will lose, not having trained for months and having eaten only scraps off the street. But Braddock wins, relaunching his career and eventually getting a shot at Max Baer, the champ who’s blows have killed two men already.


History tells us that Braddock wins this fight, to the surprise of the then boxing commission and to the joy of millions of downtrodden Americans.
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More interesting than the crunching blows and bloody fights are the surrounding circumstances of what America was going through at the time and how Braddock held his head high (at least as high as he could) in such trying times.


Getting a myopic view of family life during this time was a powerful way to present such a rags to riches story. The costumes and sets were spot-on period perfect and completely immersed the viewer in the times. Filming the struggling family pulled the movie-watcher close to the Braddocks and gave a sense of empathy that few directors can match these days. And the brutal boxing scenes were painful to watch. I flinched several times, wanting to look away but unable to for fear of missing something.


Having lavished such praise on this film, I have to comment on the cookie-cutout cinema Mr. Howard chooses to shoot (you remember Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, right?) Although I enjoy these heart-wrenching and uplifting historical movies, I do wish that Mr. Howard could break out of that mold and produce something beyond the mainstream.


But make no mistake, this is an intense movie with graphic depictions of Braddock (Crowe) landing obscenely hard blows ...as well as taking them. The greatness of the actual filming cannot be denied but the commonality of it won’t surprise those who’ve seen a Ron Howard film in the past.

Click here for the Cinderella Man movie trailer!

Oscar Nominated Film: Best Supporting Actor

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