Cinderella Man

2006-03-30 13:18


Cinderella Man is based on the true story of boxer James J. Braddock who emerged from relative obscurity to become the World Heavyweight Champion, beating the younger and stronger champion, Max Baer, against all odds. After a promising early career, Braddock had begun to struggle with injuries to his delicate hands. Then the great stock market crash of 1929 plunged America into a decade of depression and the boxing commission revoked the injured Braddock's license, forcing him to retire. Struggling to feed his family, Braddock was forced to apply for relief from the state and even beg for money. Then in 1934 he was given a chance to fight John "Corn" Griffin in the warm-up to Griffin's world championship attempt. To everyone's surprise Braddock won the fight, and went on winning, soon working his way up to the championship bout. Along the way he became an icon for working class Americans everywhere - their own fairytale warrior - their Cinderella Man.


On the surface Cinderella Man is a rather ordinary sporting drama of an underdog overcoming the odds to win a physical and moral victory. However in the hands of veteran director Ron Howard and his top notch cast the film becomes a powerful and rousing portrait of the human spirit in action.

There's no doubt that Cinderella Man is a melodrama. Every aspect of the film - from the cinematography, to the music, to the dialogue - has been carefully tailored to enhance emotional power and magnify our reactions to the events on screen. Were this clumsily done it would be irritating, even insulting, but Howard is such a master of his art that he draws us, irresistibly, into his paradigm.

Of course, Howard owes a large debt to his source material, but source material can't account for the sure handed brilliance with which he directs the picture. Backed by his longstanding crew of film artisans that includes cinematographer Salvatore Totino (Any Given Sunday), Howard evokes both Depression era America and the grit and bloody glamour of the boxing ring with sweeping power and captivating beauty.

Howard is primarily a craftsman - no scene or shot goes by untrimmed and untouched. At times his craftsmanship can begin to overwhelm a scene, overloading it with intent and not allowing his audience to make up their own minds. The vast majority of the time, however, his touch is subtle enough to carry you along without making you feel manhandled.

The boxing scenes deserve particular praise. Superb camerawork and equally superb editing put you inside each bout - not just in the audience or in the ring, but inside every aspect of the fight. As the camera swoops and dives, jumping from canvas to ringside and back, you can almost feel the blows and taste the blood and sweat. At the same time Howard is craftily getting under your skin, turning up the music and inter-cutting with Braddock's family to remind you of the larger context of the fight. The overall effect is of complete immersion - you aren't just cheering for Braddock - you ARE Braddock.

But all of Howard's careful direction would be hollow without superb performances to back it up, and superb performances are what he gets. Russell Crowe, who worked with Howard so successfully on A Beautiful Mind, is on fine form for Cinderella Man. He takes a fairly one-dimensional role and gives it the kind of complexity and gravitas that make it almost impossible not to identify with his character.

Paul Giamatti, who excelled as the neurotic wine geek in Sideways, gives another superb performance as Braddock's coach Joe Gould. Giamatti has that rare ability to be both strong and vulnerable on screen - a trait that makes him both convincing and accessible. In this role he balances the brash machismo of the '30s boxing coach with a touching streak of kindness and sympathy. Out in the ring he becomes the voice of the audience, cheering Braddock on, and we can't help but love him for it.

Only the usually excellent Renee Zellweger fails to impress here. She overplays some of the emotional scenes and threatens to overbalance the film with sentimentality. Though she is passably convincing for the rest of the picture, and doesn't detract from Crowe's performance, she's not on top form here.

By all standards Cinderella Man is an excellent and worthwhile film. Even if you're normally squeamish of boxing, you shouldn't miss this exceptionally well made film. The fact that it celebrates a Depression era hero at a time when America is the richest and fattest nation in the world may raise a few eyebrows, but if you can ignore the politics and concentrate on the film you'll have a superb night at the cinema.

- Alistair Fairweather

Director Ron Howard and Russell Crowe have taken a rather ordinary underdog story and turned it into a brilliant and powerful film about boxing.

Mark 2005/10/02 6:21 AM
Cinderella Man The movie carries you with all that James is going through at all the various stages of the period of his life covered in the movie , that you really feel part of his scene. The actual boxing bits are edge of the seat stuff , to the point that my 13 yr old ballet crazy daughter (would normally hate boxing) was punching the air whilst sitting watching the movie. What a movie , even an adult man can't hold the tears back in the last parts of the movie. In my eyes - movie of the year.
j. BEETON 2005/10/11 11:17 AM
CINERELLA MAN This film is first class entertainment, proving once again, that Russell Crowe and Rene Zellweiger are tops! This film has every ingredient for an OSCAR. Fine acting, well paced, always interesting, a poignant and stimulating film which brings to the surface all one's emotions and captures the desperation and sadness of the Depression Area. 5 stars definitely.
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.