CINDERELLA MAN (2005)
Starring Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Craig Bierko, Paddy Considine, Bruce McGill, David Huband, Connor Price, Ariel Waller, Patrick Louis, Rosemarie DeWitt, Linda Kash, Nicholas Campbell, Gene Pyrz, Chuck Shamata, Ron Canada, Alicia Johnston, Troy Amos-Ross, Angelo Dundee and Clint Howard.
Screenplay by Chris Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman.
Directed by Ron Howard.
Distributed by Miramax and Universal Pictures. 144 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Cinderella Man makes an interesting companion-piece to director Ron Howard, star Russell Crowe and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman’s last collaboration — the 2001 Best Picture winner A Beautiful Mind. In the new film, like the other one, the filmmakers gaze into the past and tell the story of an extraordinary man shackled by ordinary life. They resurrect the story of a person who has been mostly forgotten by history, but who had an astonishing life.
James J. Braddock was an up-and-coming boxer expected to contend for the title when the United States was thrust into the throes of the Great Depression. Hounded by injuries and bad luck, within a few years he was sparring in little dives for little or no money at night, and then going down to the docks by day in hopes of being one of the few picked for hard labor. His original earnings were long gone; the money had been invested in stocks and was decimated by the market crash. All he had left was a tiny apartment, his faithful wife and three small children.
When a boxing promoter (Bruce McGill) decides that Braddock is completely shot as a fighter and has his boxing license revoked, Braddock is desperate because one of his small lifelines of salary has evaporated. Only his long-time trainer Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) still believes in the fighter, and even he can only do so much to help him. Soon the bills are piling up, the electricity is being turned off, there is not enough food or milk for his family. Still, Braddock refuses to feel sorry for himself or change his essential goodness. He scolds his son for stealing a salami and forces him to take it back to the butcher even though the family desperately needs it. No matter how bad things get, he tells the boy, they are not thieves.
Finally, though, with the possibility of losing his home and his children, Braddock must do the hardest thing he has ever done. He goes to Madison Square Garden and begs from the people who used to be his peers.
This desperate deed inspires another act of charity, Gould gets the boxing commission to allow Braddock one last fight. It is a complete dead end fight, a championship contender was supposed to have a fight in two days, but his opponent was injured. There is no time to train and no name contender is willing to fight that quickly. Gould knows it is a good payday that Braddock could use and a nice farewell to the boxing game. However a funny thing happens, the prohibitive underdog Braddock actually wins the fight.
This leads to another fight and then another. His hard life has given Braddock the skills and the desire that he lacked on the first go around. His career, his pride and his financial situation slowly rights itself. Braddock was a humble man. As he acknowledged openly, many people suffered more than he did. He has grown to appreciate what he had and what he lost.
Here, the resurrection was symbolized by the heavyweight champion, Max Baer (played by Craig Bierko). I know that Baer was a great boxer, but I have to admit I had a tiny bit of trouble taking him seriously as a threat because of a biographical tidbit which was understandably not mentioned in the film — Baer’s son Max Jr. would grow up to play the grinning yokel Jethro Beaudine on the long-running sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies.
Crowe turns in yet another spectacular performance, he inhabits Braddock. Giamatti also does stellar work (though his gruff vocal inflections can be a bit distracting). Zellweger is good enough in her role, but there is a lot less to it than the other two, all she really has to be is be supportive and be worried.
It seems like every year Russell Crowe releases a movie that is likely to be right in the middle of the Oscar race, and this film will continue that streak. Cinderella Man is rousing old-fashioned entertainment and the kind of succeeding-against-all-odds story that makes the Academy salivate. It’s just icing on the cake that the movie is deserving of the accolades. (6/05)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 11, 2005.