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"Cinderella Man"

Directed by Ron Howard.
Written by Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman.
Starring Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger and Paul Giamatti.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  6/8/05


They came up gold last time with "A Beautiful Mind", so naturally, it's not a big stretch to see why Ron Howard, Russell Crowe and producer Brian Grazer worked together again on a big event picture, this one being the boxing epic "Cinderella Man."  Crowe plays James Braddock, the film's title character, a good-going-on-great boxer in the late 1920s that is just about to reach his potential, as a contender for the light heavyweight and heavyweight world championships when--whammo!--The Great Depression strikes.  Braddock, a rich man with a loving wife (Renée Zellweger) and three kids when the movie opens, is left with almost nothing after five years of film time have elapsed; his professional career in shambles and his hands nearly destroyed from a few years of underground bouts for scraps, James somehow must make ends meet...but with the help of his family and his old trainer, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti), you can almost hear the chorus singing in the background


as Braddock gets himself back on his feet and--with the heart of a freakin' lion--wins the love of the people while fighting against men bigger, badder and stronger than Braddock ever was to take the heavyweight title.

Even without knowing who Jim Braddock was before this film, the movie makes it easy on you to know what's going to happen.  As such, director Howard knows that for me to be intrigued it's all gonna be in the details.  While "Cinderella Man" is mostly solid--I don't think I would use the word "powerful", but it is "solid"--there were a couple of areas where I was not happy with this movie, things that would have made the 140 minutes run by a little smoother:

-->Give us the "fall" of Jim Braddock.  This one's tough.  The movie starts off with Braddock bringing home the megabucks and shows us how good he's got it while living in Bergen, New Jersey.  Nice clothes, lots of jewelry, food on the table, etc.  Now, if it were my story, I would have gone into The Great Depression segment by slowly breaking Jim's situation down.  How tough was it when he first realized he couldn't have steak every weekend?  How about the first time he had a mortgage payment that he couldn't meet, or the day the bank came to foreclose on his property?  His reaction when hearing that a fight purse was, say, 10% of what it normally was?  I think there is real drama in some of these areas, and Howard chooses to bypass them all, giving us the story first while Braddock is rich, then we get a transition that immediately gives us the destitute Braddock family.  I thought there was more intrigue in the "fall" than in the we-just-paid-our-G&E-and-now-it's-off-to-restart-our-lives bit that follows after Jim has to find a way to keep the lights running in their one-room bungalow.

-->The fight scenes before the epic finale.  Hey, I'll admit it--the fight between Braddock and Max Baer (Craig Bierko) to conclude the film is great stuff.  But, I thought that the other fight scenes were average or worse.  Howard is great at the audience details--the constant radio commentary, the women in the crowd that are continuously looking away whenever someone is laid out, the smoky haze of a boxing arena.  But, the actual fighting looks realistic and therefore doesn't entertain; it's almost too real, and for the sake of entertainment, I was underwhelmed by the Braddock fights because of their lack of intensity.  Crowe seems like he is well-off in the ring, but only the final fight lacks any real danger, any real chance that a man might get demolished in the ring.  Hey, boxing's a violent sport; the boxing in "Million Dollar Baby" makes the "Cinderella Man" boxing look like kid gloves, that's for sure.  (Maybe "Cinderella Man" has its PG-13 rating to blame for its soft pugilism.)

Even given these two beefs, I had to admit after it was over that "Cinderella Man" is still a very good movie.  Giamatti goes back to the Giamatti that I got to know before people started offering him the lead in films...I still think he is a better supporting character than a lead, and here he is fantastic.  All of the acting is high quality, no surprise given the pedigree.  Even Paddy Considine, who starred in "In America" a couple of years ago in Britain, is great as Braddock's friend Mike; Zellweger does not disappoint and Crowe is on auto-pilot now, turning in Oscar-quality work every time he shows up in a movie.  The story rolls right along, and even during the film's main stretch where no boxing takes place, the Braddock family's fate is enough to keep you hooked throughout.  The strife that they go through doesn't elicit tears the way that some movies did for me; hell, I'll still tear up during "Rocky" depending on my mood that day.  Still, watching and imagining life during The Great Depression still makes you say "hmmm" whenever you see folks living in shacks in Central Park in a movie.

Not making the kind of "Star Wars" money that will keep it around for long--especially during a movie season that has many viable alternatives in the next couple of weeks, with "Batman Begins", "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" and "War of the Worlds" coming fast--"Cinderella Man" is a good adult alternative that you may want to check out soon.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09