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CINDERELLA MAN (PG-13) (2005)

Universal

Official Site

Director: Ron Howard

Producers: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Penny Marshall

Written by: Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman

Cast: Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Craig Bierko, Bruce McGill

Rating:


Here we are again with the summer movie season at a slow start. Needless to say. Hollywood isn’t too happy. Instead of looking inward, the Hollywood execs will continue place the blame on downloading and conservatives.

Cinderella Man is another period piece with what is considered a strong pedigree by the Hollywood community. The film has Academy Award-winning director, Opie; an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Goldsman (I like to call him the hack who wrote Batman And Robin); and of course, Academy Award-winning acting talent in Russell Crowe and former University of Texas student Renee Zellweger. Well, if you wanted a movie to be a stronger contender for the 2006 Academy Awards than this one, it would need to be uber-schmaltzy, nigh-melodramatic, and be a biopic of sorts. Uh waitaminute… nevermind.

Cinderella Man, or Seabiscuit: Part II, Electric Boogaloo, is yet another Depression-era “microcosm” as Gary Ross would say. The American spirit is waning, so we need an underdog to fight symbolically for the American dream, inspiring people to buck up and work through the hard times. I will say the story of boxer James Braddock (Crowe), who fights to support his family, is slightly more compelling than a narrative about derby horse racing.

I did appreciate one element of the story—the juxtaposition of the Roaring ’20s to the Depression. The transition is very sudden and reflects how life was good and so much was just ripped away, and then living became a struggle. We were careless, fat, and happy, which, for many, made the time of the Great Depression that much more humbling. And it appears that no one understood humility in Cinderella Man more than Crowe’s Braddock.

Losing his fighting license and seeing his family reduced to ripping wood off signs just to keep warm motivates Braddock to fight and go on. With the unselfish help from his fight trainer, Joe Gould (Giamatti, exceptional as usual), Braddock can fight once again—the threat of losing his family being the incentive to never lose.

Performances are strong, especially from Crowe, Giamatti, and Zellweger. However, there are some scenes with Braddock and his family that are so overdone and harrowing that one almost feels like the characters should lean back and cover their foreheads with their arms. The actors ground it fairly well, but as my acting teacher told me when he was going through a similar rough patch, “Yeah your life is terrible, but we’re gonna make it through. And then you make it through and you think, ‘That wasn’t so bad after all.’” However, that takes perspective and hindsight into account.

If Braddock is the Cinderella of the story, that would make his would-be opponent, world heavyweight boxing champion, Max Baer (Bierko), our wicked stepmother. Baer is such a ridiculously slimy, evil scumbag, at one point I was expecting him to give the virtuous Braddock an apple or twirl his mustache—sadly a two-dimensional and disappointing antagonist. The movie definitely takes a biased, romantic, and flawless view of our hero, Braddock.

The boxing is definitely one of the strongest aspects of the movie. The choreography is very clever, and the shots and strikes looked and sounded quite convincing. The editing effectively integrates the journalists and photographers taking snaps of the match.

I’d say overall that Cinderella Man is a much more effective movie than A Beautiful Mind. Braddock is a much more sympathetic figure, and despite more “woe is me” moments, you really can’t help rooting for the underdog. And what’s better than seeing Crowe do what he does best… “FOIGHTIN’!”

—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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