"Cinderella Man", Ron Howard's heart-felt film biography of boxing legend James J. Braddock, never received the recognition it deserved when first released, due, in large part, to Russell Crowe's bad press following a telephone-throwing incident. Overzealous critics tended to lump the incident and film together, and despite Crowe's public apology, many moviegoers skipped it. Now that the film is available on DVD, it's time to acknowledge the film for what it always HAS been; director Howard and star Crowe's FINEST film, together!
Braddock's story is so amazing and inspirational, that it is astonishing that it's taken seventy years to tell it. Sylvester Stallone 'borrowed' from it, extensively, in creating "Rocky", and in viewing the film, the parallels between fact and fiction are obvious; Braddock had been an 'up and comer' in the twenties, but broken bones and ill-advised matches had cost him a championship shot. Then the Depression struck, Braddock was wiped out, financially, and he struggled to support his wife and family through the most harrowing period in American history. Considered 'washed up' and too old for a comeback, all the boxer had going for him was his wife's love, his manager's faith, and his personal integrity, which refused to allow him to give up. He tenaciously climbed back up the ranks of younger title contenders, earning the adoration of a country trying to rebuild their own lives, as well, until, finally, he had his championship match, against ruthless 'killing machine' Max Baer. Their match would become the stuff of legends!
To director Howard's credit, he never 'over-sentimentalizes' the story, or tries to turn it into a soft-focus 'fairy tale'. His vision of the Depression is the most accurate and heartbreaking since the documentaries of the '30s, and will come as a revelation to those whose only knowledge of the period is a paragraph in a history book. Jim Braddock is not a 'Superman', but a hard-working, decent man with no higher vision than to provide his family a better life, and as magnificently portrayed by Crowe, he embodies qualities of honesty and dignity that many of us dream of, but seldom achieve. In any other year, he'd be a shoo-in for an Oscar for his performance, it's that good!
Matching Crowe's portrayal are Renée Zellweger, as his loyal wife, Mae, who perfectly channels a '30s 'style', as well as a gutsiness that is timeless, and the wonderful Paul Giamatti, as manager Joe Gould, who would sell everything he owned, rather than see Braddock give up. Giamatti, a veteran character actor who finally saw his 'breakthrough' in last year's "Sideways", should finally get his long-deserved Oscar, for this role.
"Cinderella Man" is a film that will continue to be cherished long after the filmmakers are gone, a tale rooted in an earlier era, but still timeless.
Movies just don't get better than this!