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Overall Rating

Awesome: 23.53%
Worth A Look56.62%
Average: 2.94%
Pretty Bad: 15.44%
Total Crap: 1.47%

13 reviews, 58 user ratings

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Cinderella Man
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by Erik Childress

"Million Dollar Depression Baby"
4 stars

True stories at the movies work on various plateaus depending partially on your knowledge of the source material. Four out of five people likely know the ending of the most well-known historical lessons or folk tales passed through time. My own knowledge of the boxer Jim Braddock comes from one of the infamous questions to Charles Van Doren during the quiz show scandals. And even that was from a movie. Braddock was just a name in the air, a chronological footnote to a sport I’ve followed more fictionally in the movies than in books or television. Damon Runyon once called him (and I’m paraphrasing) the greatest human interest story in boxing history - and with the humanity and grace that Ron Howard and Russell Crowe do him justice, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

Braddock (Crowe) during the late 20s had a tremendous run of success in the boxing ring, being dubbed the man who couldn’t be knocked down. Then the Great Depression hit and as the money dried up, so did Braddock, taking low-level fights and fighting through injury to support his loving wife, Mae (Renee Zellweger) and their three children. The first half of Cinderella Man deals outright with their struggle and the patience that Howard exhibits really draws us into the period without feeling forced or treacly. “If I work 26 hours in every 24 it still won’t add up,” contemplates Braddock.

It’s not until his manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti), offers him a farewell fight as a publicity bout for a fighter in line for the championship, does Braddock get a chance to keep his family afloat. An unlikely win later and soon the boxing commission, after a brilliant piece of convincing by Gould, sees the potential in keeping Braddock on the road to the feared champion who has already killed two men in the ring, Max Baer (played with the perfect amount of charm and dread by Craig Bierko). “We both know the name of this game and it sure as hell ain’t pugilism,” Gould summarizes in a statement that still resonates today.

In essence, Braddock’s underdog tale follows the gravitas of stories like Seabiscuit and Miracle where the spirit of the American people in downtrodden times hitched their wagon to the triumph of these heroes. The corniness that creeps into the mind of non-sports fans or outright cynics of such a notion is understandable. No game, race or boxing match can solve a nation’s problems. But that’s not what entertainment does. A distraction it may be, but a necessary one to millions of people and a religion in its own right. There may be millions of New York Yankee haters but none should deny the power of their championship run to that city just weeks after the attacks of 9/11. Then even more important to the underdogs of Arizona and their dramatic ninth-inning Game 7 comeback. It’s great when the teamwork can pick everyone up on the field, but something quite special when one man has to do it all by himself.

It’s amazing how quickly Russell Crowe can immolate instantaneously into any role. Most of America has probably never seen a picture, let alone footage of the real Jim Braddock. But it takes all of a few seconds to make us believe we are looking right into his eyes and the homespun resolve he carries for his family. When he has to kneel down to his son and promise him he will never send him away in these troubled times, its not just a father’s ploy to ease the burden on his child. Jim believes the words he speaks and because of Crowe, we believe them too. There is one key scene when, against all odds and then some, Braddock must swallow all dignity and pride and ask his colleagues for money. The way this scene is handled, with Braddock’s shame and his friends almost not wanting to fork over a couple bucks just so he won’t be humiliated is some of the strongest work that Crowe and Howard have ever done. It’s not an uplifting scene nor does Howard go to the tear-well that composer Thomas Newman (doing strong work here) can conjure up with a piercing ballad. It gets the tears on its own and we haven’t even got to the boxing yet.

Boxing footage can be shot many different ways. You can go the route of quick-cut brutality that Scorsese did in Raging Bull or we can sit back like the referee; a spectator in the ring. Howard plays both points-of-view, but it hardly matters since the visceral sideshow of the contests takes second place to the POV the audience is already invested in. The boxing sequences work as afterthoughts to where we’ve come with Braddock and because of that its more exciting when he lands a solid right and more devastating when he pulls up in pain. As our hands-on guide to the emotion, Paul Giamatti delivers another stellar performance. Part cheerleader, part voice-of-reason, Giamatti’s work should serve up the Oscar nomination he’s been screwed out of twice in the past three years with American Splendor and Sideways.

The screenplay by Akiva Goldsman and Cliff Hollandsworth does a good job in balancing all of these elements without jackhammering their relevance. They do misstep in the subplot of Jimmy’s new friend on the docks played by Paddy Considine. While I cannot confirm or deny the character’s existence in Braddock’s life, he comes off more like a screenwriter’s composite designed pointedly to bridge concerns to homespun violence outside of the ring and Mae’s concern for the life of her husband within it. The audience could have made these jumps easily enough for themselves with the excising of this distraction and a good 15 minutes from the film.

My soft spot for a great sports underdog story is well-documented. Just check out my reviews for Miracle and The Rookie. (To show these films aren't always givens, read Seabiscuit.) The great one are more than just rah-rah look at the poor guy do well stories. They are invested with a grace towards their subject and know when to pull their punches and how to wait until the audience is knee-wobbled enough to deliver the knockout blow. It also helps that they are true stories and not the invention of screenwriters following the template of how to get audience applause. June 13, 2005 is the 70th anniversary of the fight between Braddock and Baer. But other than sportswriters, who really knows this? It helps cut down on the “Apollo 13 factor” (named for a friend who felt the inherent suspense was stifled since he already knew the ending.) As Braddock goes into the final fight, as long as you’re not overthinking what kind of films Ron Howard makes or what a studio would allow in the wake of Million Dollar Baby, you won’t know whether he is going to win or even make it to the end with his life. Tears are likely to be shed at the end of Cinderella Man, but thanks to Crowe and Howard you won’t know how or where the sucker punch will be coming from.

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originally posted: 06/03/05 14:02:44
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User Comments

6/22/10 Monday Morning Like Seabiscuit with two legs. Love the uplifting story - we need it now. 4 stars
12/19/09 Jeff Wilder Rocky with better acting. Million Dollar Baby/Raging Bull it's not. Still good. 4 stars
6/29/09 budo True story--well done 5 stars
9/03/08 Shaun Wallner Great film!! 5 stars
3/02/08 Pamela White Integrity and faith, hard road to travel 5 stars
1/02/08 Matt Great performance from Crowe and superbly filmed fight scenes. Excellent movie. 4 stars
12/10/07 mr.mike worth seeing , Crowe can play anything 4 stars
12/09/07 R.W.Welch Realistic depiction. Standout perf by Giamatti. 4 stars
12/22/06 Thomas Wynn Nice story, and good acting. 4 stars
11/24/06 Charlene Javier Crowe was brilliant as usual. 4 stars
11/24/06 Patsyc I really enjoyed this movie. Although I am not a boxing fan, I really liked the story. 4 stars
11/23/06 Tiffany Losco saw this with my parents, it was awesome. I really liked the story. 5 stars
11/18/06 annie The movie was good, Renee was great. 4 stars
10/06/06 Kara I can re-watch this over and over again, riviting 5 stars
9/18/06 daveyt very enjoyable, though my blockbuster dvd was scratced to hell...! 4 stars
8/18/06 Tom Conroy I think Zellwinger did a great job. Her accent was the most authentic 5 stars
8/10/06 drydock54321 a bit long but good 4 stars
8/07/06 JenDenmark Good movie, would recommend it for a Sunday evening. 4 stars
7/11/06 David Cohen Missed getting 5 stars for its awful slur against Max Baer 4 stars
5/24/06 Anthony Feor Had depth but, it is just like Rocky 4 stars
5/18/06 Phil M. Aficionado Would be 5 stars if they hadn't "hokeyed" up Max Baer so extremely 4 stars
5/15/06 Diane P this was great, attention to detail for the era was astounding, all actors tremendous 5 stars
4/01/06 Nobody The best movie of the year. Why was it forgotten at the oscars? 5 stars
1/30/06 WiseMan Somthing was missing. All in all the movie was very Enjoyable 5 stars
1/05/06 Dan Great Movie! 5 stars
1/04/06 Piz true story and a winner. One of the greats of 2005 5 stars
12/18/05 ownerofdajoint Good boxing scenes but evades the truth on the causes of the Depression.Opey sells out! 4 stars
12/12/05 joseph taylor boring and violent. the script and movie far far below "rocky'. poor imitation of it. 2 stars
10/02/05 Jonathon Holmes good movie, but its no "Million Dollar Baby" 4 stars
9/29/05 JOrdan it was bad make a new movie! 1 stars
9/25/05 Renee Zellweger's best performance yet Hope she wins an Oscar and isn't taking a dump when it's presented! 5 stars
9/22/05 Fritz One of Howard's worst. Typical schmaltzy sports movie crap. 2 stars
9/01/05 Teh Gret one Prety Ghey 1 stars
8/28/05 Quigley russell crowe ruled the movie. why did it not make as much $? i loved this movie. oscars! 5 stars
8/26/05 Nobody True story, good boxing scenes, a hero you like rooting for, half-decent accents. 5 stars
8/25/05 Heather Purplethorne Quite interesting story of a human Seabiscuit 4 stars
8/11/05 George Seaberg Superb! I don't cry in a movie, but I did here. There's another similar story out there 5 stars
7/27/05 Tina Lawrimore Loved it! The best movie I have seen so far this yr. 5 stars
7/15/05 Lesle I forgot how much I hate boxing flicks 3 stars
7/11/05 Brian Feiler A movie with class and heart. Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger should be oscar contenders 5 stars
7/05/05 rocky i thought this movie was awesome 5 stars
7/04/05 Naka Howard is a lucky hack. 2 stars
7/03/05 Melissa AWESOME movie. Russell Crowe (at least in his profession) can't make a mistake. A+ 5 stars
6/30/05 Ole Man Bourbon I wish they'd included the scene where R Crowe smashed the phone on the valet 4 stars
6/30/05 Quigley Great to have Ron Howard back. This movie is awesome, awesome, awesome. 5 stars
6/30/05 lindy03 Excellent 5 stars
6/21/05 ownerofdajoint crowe is incredible;this movie is almost as good as raging bul 5 stars
6/18/05 chris. Gee, I didn't see ANY of that coming... 3 stars
6/17/05 Wayne Engle Second coming of Frank Capra! A superb job! 5 stars
6/16/05 Mike V Damn good. Ron Howard didn't "Hollywood" it up TOO much 4 stars
6/08/05 Jim Marmino Where is the creativity, just another Rock movie or Somebody Up There Likes Me. 3 stars
6/07/05 Ole Man Bourbon Decent, but oh so predictable. Definitely one of those that wrote itself (or maybe a puter 3 stars
6/05/05 PAUL BRUNS If you didn't already know the outcome, great 5 stars
6/05/05 J MAN good not great. If this is the best film of the year, were in trouble... 4 stars
6/04/05 jcjs wonderful 5 stars
6/04/05 Koitus Great story. Giamatti should get Supporting Oscar for this one! Well set-up ending. 5 stars
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  03-Jun-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 06-Dec-2005



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