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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 Tom Ciorciari

"A scrappy contender for everyone's ten-best lists"
4 stars

In telling the true story of boxer James J. Braddock, who had almost reached the summit of his profession when bad luck struck a killer combination of recurrent injuries and the Great Depression yet ultimately triumphed to become the world heavyweight champion, director Ron Howard has delivered the kind of good, old-fashioned picture that Hollywood rarely does well anymore.

One can imagine a mid-1930's incarnation on Ron Howard's Cinderella Man with James Cagney playing the scrappy Braddock, Pat O'Brien as his equally scrappy best friend/manager/trainer and, perhaps, Sylvia Sydney as his stoic, loving wife. Nary a word would need be changed and the whole thing would still probably have clocked in a good half hour shorter.

As it is, we have Russell Crowe giving one of his finest performances as Braddock, a real-life hero-of-the-people and honest-to-goodness Good Guy, without ever giving in to the easy sentimentality of the story. His Braddock is a man who virtually had it all, only to find himself barely able to keep food on the table; a father frustrated with his situation, trying to hold his family together, even if it means going literally with hat-in-hand to his former employers. Throughout Crowe's performance is pitch perfect, remarkable all the more for the gentleness he is able to convey with little more than a smile.

Supporting him ably is Paul Giamatti, giving his third brilliant performance in as many films, as Braddock's manager/trainer Ben Gould. It is in the scenes between Crowe and Giamatti that the film truly jumps to life. Watching these two play off one another is a joy. Like two fine vocalists immersed in a duet their performances peak together.

Less of a success is Renée Zellweger as Braddock's faithful, loving wife, Mae. Perhaps thinking herself something of a dialectition after snagging an Oscar for her overblown Annie Oakley impression in Cold Mountain, Zellweger applies a like-minded New Joisey to dese line readin's. It doesn't help that she's given little to do other than look worried throughout and spout humdingers like "You ah de champion a my hot, James Braddock". In a curious turn of events Zellweger's scrunchy-faced is-she-smiling-or-is-she-crying? brand of emoting is becoming more of an acquired taste with each passing film. Perhaps she needs to do more comedy.

As for Craig Bierko's mighty Max Baer, who actually killed two men in the ring, Howard and screenwriters Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman go to great lengths to paint him as the villain of the piece, portraying him as a misogynistic, misanthropic bully who gets what's coming to him in the climactic donnybrook. Of course this characterization is a bit at odds with the truth (one need only go back to Howard and Crowe's last go-round, the Oscar- winning A Beautiful Mind, to be reminded that although the devil may be in the details, director Howard would prefer to paint in broader, more audience-friendly strokes), but there would be admittedly little conflict indeed without such a character. The true villain here would appear to be the Depression itself, a less-than-compelling dramatic device for a film of this type. Elsewhere the film makers shepherd in further drama with the introduction of Braddock's fictional alcoholic, wife-beating co-worker, Mike (In America's Paddy Considine), whom Howard will sacrifice in the third act like any number of supporting Rocky cast members for the sake of a tug on the ol' heartstrings.

Much like Seabiscuit, the film makers strive to lay the hopes and dreams of the entire nation on our hero's shoulders. And though this may certainly have been the case, Howard doesn't really pull it off with any semblance of true believability. When neither Crowe nor Giamatti is on screen the film sinks to the level of a well-done but nevertheless common programmer. A priest fingers his rosary during the climactic bout while at home the Braddock kids hide on the cellar steps listening to the radio broadcast they've been forbidden to hear for fear that their beloved pop is going to be murdered in the ring. There is the requisite training sequence which, so close on the heels of last year's Million Dollar Baby seems terribly familiar here. There is also a great missed opportunity when, late in the proceedings, Zellweger's Mae tells Braddock that she would pray for him to get hurt just enough so that he wouldn't have to fight again. Why this bit of relevant drama is relegated to a throwaway during Zellweger's big third act speech is mystifying.

Ron Howard has claimed to have looked for the "dirt" on Braddock who, apparently, was as noble and self-sacrificing an individual as is portrayed here. That's all well and good, but Howard and his screenwriters needn't have told his tale in so bland a manner. Yet a perusal of Howard's resumé reveals the somewhat surprisingly renowned director to be a purveyor of rather bland films. Yes, there are the Apollo13s and A Beautiful Minds, but for each of those there is a Willow or – God help us! – How The Grinch Stole Christmas to even things out. It would appear that Howard has been trying valiantly for the majority of his career (going back at least as far as Cocoon in 1985) to claim the title of Great All-American Feel-Good Director that Steven Spielberg has spent the last twenty years attempting to renounce, both with varying degrees of success. And much like the younger Spielberg, Howard has certainly succeeded with audiences, if not always the critics.

A good, solid film – despite its weaknesses – featuring two knock-out performances by Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti, CINDERELLA MAN is the first true Oscar contender of the year. And, yes, deservedly so.

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originally posted: 07/06/05 10:21:08
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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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