Cinderella Man is inspired by the true story of depression-era boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe), a once-promising light heavyweight boxer forced into retirement after a broken hand dents his progress. Braddock takes daily dockside jobs to support his wife, Mae (Renee Zellweger) and their children, while never totally abandoning his dream of boxing again. After a last-minute cancellation, Braddock's manager (Paul Giamatti) talks the promoters into letting Jim back in the ring against the second-ranked world contender; to everyone's amazement, he wins in the third round. Despite being pounds lighter than his opponents and repeated injuries to his hands, Braddock continues to fight and win. Carrying on his shoulders the hopes and dreams of the poor and disenfranchised, Braddock, dubbed the Cinderella Man, faces his toughest challenge in Max Baer (Craig Bierko), the heavyweight champion of the world, renowned for having killed two men in the ring.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As writer Damon Runyon observed in 1936, there's no human interest story in the history of boxing to compare with Braddock's. Since then, of course, there's been Ali, but Ron Howard does justice to Braddock with Russell Crowe's predictably compleat immersion into the persona of Braddock - or at least a credible version of it.
Given the substance of the story, it's a matter of telling it well, and Howard keeps the focus on the Braddock family as it struggles with the effects of the depression and the personal drama that engulfs Braddock as a natural boxer denied his lifeblood - as well as his livelihood.
The emotional language is beautifully developed in cinematic terms, and while the depression always evokes deep pathos, Howard edges away from mawkishness. Crowe's absolute commitment and his absence of vanity (reminiscent of Toni Collette) ensures a powerhouse performance - without theatrical artifice. Renee Zellweger is excellent as his loving, supporting and at times terrified wife, and the children are beautifully directed.
Scenes such as the kids listening to the radio on the cellar steps, against mum's orders, to the potentially deadly climactic fight against Max Baer (a top turn from Craig Bierko), are superbly realised. Indeed, the fight scenes are bruisingly well crafted, so much so that it is impossible to imagine how they are filmed, except for real.
There is pain and elation, danger and courage, love and decency, pride and desperation strewn throughout Braddock's story - and we absorb it all. The film's production design and music help create a melancholy mood that is both evocative of period and of the inner journey of the Braddock family. Cinderella Man is without a doubt a 'contender'.
Review by Louise Keller:
Intensely moving and superbly crafted, Cinderella Man is a powerhouse of a film. Meticulously directed by Ron Howard, the story is inspiring and Russell Crowe's portrayal of James Braddock, the boxer whose heart is super-loaded with determination and courage, is nothing short of brilliant. A tour de force for both Crowe and Howard, this is a film that satisfies deeply and on every level. There's heart-break, elation and sheer thrills, while the characters are razor-sharp as they cut through superficiality.
'Every time you get hit, I get hit,' says Renee Zellweger's Mae. 'And I'm not as tough as you.' That's precisely how I felt after partaking the journey of this everyman struggling for the survival of his family. He boxes to feed his family, not his ego. Based on a true story, it was as though James J. Braddock (dubbed 'Cinderella Man' by a sports journalist) carried all the hopes and dreams of the whole country on his shoulders, overcoming impossible odds to achieve the unreachable. Crowe plays Braddock not as a hero, but as an ordinary man. He strips emotionally and we wince from his pain. It's not just the boxing scenes (superbly staged) that are hard to watch, but scenes such as his cap-in-hand ultimate humiliation begging to the boxing fiefdom for a few dollars to keep his family together. His Braddock is physically tough: he is an eagle of a man with a great sense of honour, decency and determination and Crowe soars to the challenge.
Performances are all superlative. Zellweger is warm and real as Mae, the woman who stands behind her man; the pep talk she gives her husband is one that will melt the toughest heart. Paul Giamatti is truly marvellous as Braddock's loud-mouth manager Joe ('they should put your mouth in a circus'), who throws nearly as many punches in the air as his charge does in the ring. You won't forget Craig Bierko, outstanding as Max, the man-eating boxing giant who plays dirty and whose lethal blows dislodge brains and shatter lives. Physically, Bierko has extraordinary presence on screen, and Max's leering expression and ugly personality (on his physically attractive features) make the final encounter on June 13, 1935 every bit as terrifying as Maximus the Gladiator entering the arena.
All the elements are spot on - an intelligent script, beautiful cinematography, exquisite production design and an unintrusive, yet powerful score. Effective editing intercuts scenes at New York's Madison Square Gardens for the final round of 15 with those of Braddock's children surreptiously listening to the radio broadcast at home, while the packed congregation gathers in the local church. This is the most nerve-wracking, tension-building, thrilling boxing sequence imaginable as psychology and sheer courage confront brutality and foul-play.
Cinderella Man is first and foremost a film about family. Emotionally it zings and we, like Braddock walk the plank together. It's a rewarding experience - don't miss it.
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RUSSELL CROWE IN VENICE
CINDERELLA MAN (M)
CAST: Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Craig Bierko, Paddy Considine, Bruce McGill, David Hubbard, Connor Price, Ariel Waller, Patrick Louis, Rosemarie DeWitt
PRODUCER: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Penny Marshall
DIRECTOR: John Howard
SCRIPT: Cliff Hollingsworth, Akiva Goldsman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Salvatore Totino
EDITOR: Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill
MUSIC: Thomas Newman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Wynn Thomas
RUNNING TIME: 144 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 22, 2005 (wide release from September 29, 2005)