**** (out of 5)
June 3, 2005
Russell Crowe as JIM BRADDOCK
Renee Zellweger as MAE BRADDOCK
Paul Giamatti as JOE GOULD
Craig Bierko as MAX BAER
Paddy Considine as MIKE WILSON
Bruce McGill as JIMMY JOHNSTON
Directed by: Ron Howard
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Ron Howard is of a rare breed – a master filmmaker. Sure, he has his failures like “The Missing,” but they are outweighed by his brilliant work in films like “Apollo 13” and “Backdraft.”
He has turned out another powerful and inspiring movie with “Cinderella Man.” Russell Crowe plays Jim Braddock, a washed up Depression-era fighter who has a second chance at greatness. Crowe, whose off-screen personal is gruff and abrasive, manages to paint a picture of a hero honorable enough to love but not without his faults.
I’ve never been a huge fan of either Renee Zellweger or Russell Crowe. Generally, I like their films in spite of their presence. Russell Crowe has the ability as Jim Braddock to grab you by the lapels and force you to like him. The only real problem with this film is that it is almost too inspiring. The character of Jim Braddock is such a hero, he is almost unbelievable.
Zellweger, on the other hand, is really nothing special here. She holds her own as Braddock’s wife, but she’s not left with much to do but wring her hands and look worried. In “Apollo 13,” Ron Howard felt the need to focus on Jim Lovell’s wife (Kathleen Quinlan) throughout the film. I understood why he did that – and I’m sure it was gut-wrenching for her to listen to the debacle of the Apollo 13 mission. However, every time she came on screen, I found myself looking at my watch and wondering when we were going to get back to the spaceship.
Such is the case with Braddock’s wife. I understand that the wife of a boxer – especially one in the 1930s – had a lot of worries. Even today, boxing is a dangerous sport. The intention, after all, is to beat the living daylights out of your opponent. But after about ten minutes of the wife moping on screen, I was ready to get back in the ring.
If you don’t know the story behind Braddock, the film will hold some surprises for you. Howard does a competent job holding back and keeping you guessing. He falters into overly trendy filmmaking techniques at times, but these weird sequences are forgivable in the bigger picture.
Like most solid films, “Cinderella Man” has a strong supporting cast. The ever-brilliant Paul Giamatti is great as Braddock’s manager, and Bruce McGill plays an excellent heavy from the boxing commission.
Even if you’re not a boxing fan, “Cinderella Man” is a thrill to watch. The fight scenes are full of energy and in-you-face, if not overdone at times. “Cinderella Man” struggles to find focus in the first half, and things do drag a bit at times. But it’s okay to have slow start if you have a strong enough finish, and the last half of the film is where the movie really shines.
The production and costume design looks great. All the muted colors with browns and grays convey the full depression of the era. I only wish they would have found ways to differentiate between the fighters during the boxing sequences. When you have two well-built white guys with dark hair wearing boxer shorts of roughly the same color, it’s hard to tell who’s hitting whom.
The film is inspiring on many levels. It’s not just a triumph in the tradition of “Rocky.” It’s a triumph for anyone down on their luck or facing troubles at home.
No matter what your problems are right now… no matter what burdensome financial obligations are around your neck… no matter how down on your luck you are… this film will help you realize that things aren’t as bad as they’ve been. Sure, the inspiration you feel from this film is not going to help pay off $30,000 in credit card debt, but it will give you hope.