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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 Greg Ursic

"A definite contender come Oscar time."
4 stars

In the 1920’s, James Braddock was middling fighter who made a living in the ring. His rosy future took a dive when fate hits him with a devastating one-two combination: after injuring his hand once too often he has trouble getting fights, and then on 1929’s Black Monday, Braddock like so many others watched as his savings evaporated. He takes a job at the docks a place known for being as dangerous as it is grimy and promises that no matter what he will keep his family together. In 1936, at the height of the Depression, Braddock gets the proverbial second chance and after a series of stunning upsets, he’s offered at the heavyweight championship belt and America draws a collective breath as their favorite underdog steps into the ring.

I was looking forward to Cinderella Man more out of curiosity than anything else: I happened to be in Toronto and stumbled across a movie shoot late one night while trying to find a hotel. I asked the site manager who was standing on the street if she knew where said hotel was, and we ended up having a long conversation (her being gorgeous had nothing to do with it). I learned that they were working on Cinderella Man, a story set in the 30’s, which also explained why The Bay Downtown had been made up with a Marquee to double for Madison Square Gardens.

The next day, I was sitting at an Internet café with a few minutes left on my account and I IMDB’d the film and read the plot summary of James Braddock’s rags to riches story. Unfortunately my time ran out before I was able to google Braddock. Having discovered the NFB offices – and their free viewing stations - later that afternoon I promptly forgot to follow-up. In retrospect I’m surprised no one tapped this dramatic tearjerker - down and out average guy who sticks by his family and refuses to give up during the Depression – before now, essentially since most of the elements in the film (with one exception) are largely accurate.

According to director Ron “Opie” Howard, working with Russell Crowe, was akin to being in the presence of a tropical storm as he never knew what kind of mood Crowe would be in. In spite of any on set melodrama, Crowe clearly went to great lengths (including accidentally dislocating his shoulder while training which delayed filming for two months) to capture Braddock’s essence and his efforts manifest onscreen. Crowe’s confident trademark swagger has been replaced by a quiet determination and in several - I hate to use the word touching (but they are) - scenes, he taps into rarely displayed vulnerability, and rescues what could have become simple syrupy moments. That’s the mark of a talented actor.

Paul Giamatti digs deep as Braddock’s gutsy promoter/trainer Joe Gould, consoling the broken Braddock with a silky tempered voice that soothes better than grape water. This is sharply contrasted by spraying spit and his glowing red face when Joe is yelling from the corner in the fight scenes. According to Giamatti he was mentored a little too well by the trainers on set and consequently ruined several takes with curse-laden outbursts. In contrast, I had difficulty connecting with Renee Zellweger’s character. The energy that she exuded in Cold Mountain has been lacking in her subsequent performances, and here the gap between upbeat and upset is negligible. Finally, Craig Bierko is an imposing figure both physically (he stands 6’5”) and dramatically, projecting a palpable malevolence as cocky heavyweight champion Max Baer. Baer goes beyond the traditional trash talking, and veers off into outright villainy: his merciless public taunting of Braddock and his wife degenerates into barely veiled death threats. Bierko makes a wonderful bastard, in fact too good.

Film critics and boxing historians alike have attacked Baer’s portrayal as a cold-hearted killer. Baer, considered one of the most gentlemanly pugilists to strap on the gloves was a showman who enjoyed entertaining the audience, but was not enamoured of the brutal aspects of the sport. When he accidentally killed an opponent in the ring, he was remained inconsolable and refused to box for the better part of a year. Indeed, many argue that he held back in subsequent fights for fear of hurting another opponent. Baer’s son, Max Baer Jr (better known as Jethro on the original Beverly Hillbillies) noted that his father supported the dead man’s family and also put his children through university. Howard has countered by saying that they took dramatic license with the character to galvanize the audience and give the story more heft. Whether “dramatic license” turns into libel is something for the lawyers to figure out.

Jim Braddock’s triumphant success over daunting odds could easily have turned into an exercise in movie-of-the-week schmaltz, but Clifford Hollingsworth’s delicately balanced screenplay never overwhelms with drama or pathos. The script is reinforced by elaborately simple sets that capture the feel of the era, as well as Howard’s tight direction and uncompromising fight sequences. Finally, Crowe, Giamatti and Bierko, infuse their characters with a collective spirit that will keep audiences in their seats to the last frame.

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originally posted: 06/08/05 15:18:57
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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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