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Movie Review: Cinderella Man

June 3rd, 2005

At the risk of being run through with a lightsabre, let me say that, finally, 2005 has delivered a great movie. Ron Howard's Cinderella Man delivers on all levels, with stand out performances by Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti, some beautiful technical work, and a knockout screenplay by Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman. Good word-of-mouth should keep this movie in theaters for a long time.

Cinderella Man charts the course of the boxing career of Jim Braddock (Crowe), starting with him a promising title contender prior to the great depression, living a comfortable middle-class life outside the ring. His career, however, declines along with the economy, and by 1933 he's reduced to minor bouts and struggling to get by on piece work down at the New York docks.

The impact of the Great Depression is compellingly portrayed, and this forms the emotional bedrock of the movie. Braddock's determination and pride are set against a backdrop of almost universal poverty and quiet desperation for the working class of New York. Some scenes in this middle stretch of the movie are beautifully constructed and acted - with the kind of restraint too rarely seen in films of this scale. Crowe once more shows that he's one of the top movie actors of our time.

The payoff is in Braddock's return to the ring, supported by his coach Joe Gould (ably played by Paul Giamatti) and wife (Renee Zellweger). The portrayal of the fights, particularly his encounter with Max Baer, is technically brilliant. With the benefit of a good sound system, every punch reverberates through the theater, and the risks Braddock is taking make for gripping cinema.

If you don't know Braddock's story, I highly recommend seeing the movie before reading more about him. It's a fascinating tale, told well here. (And after you've seen Cinderella Man, check out Slate's article on Max Baer - another amazing story.)

The movie is not without fault. One sequence, which looked to me as though it was tacked on by a studio wanting to broaden the movie's appeal, gave Ms. Zellweger the uneviable task of trying to pull off the line, "You are the champion of my heart." 'Nuff said.

But the positives far outway some minor negatives. To rank Cinderella Man as the best movie of 2005 so far isn't saying much. But there's a good chance it won't be bettered. Russell Crowe seems a certainty for a Best Actor Oscar nomination, and the film is a shoo-in for a Best Picture nod. And maybe, just maybe, Paul Giamatti has finally found a movie of the right scale to earn him a long over-due acting award.

But the Oscars are still a long, long way away. In the meantime, we might just have found this Summer's surprise hit.

Bruce Nash

Filed under: Cinderella Man