Cinderella Man review by Cinema Guru Boy

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Inevitably, Cinderella Man is going to be compared time and time again to Million Dollar Baby or Rocky, as each film depicts a poor pugalist fighting in the ring for his/her station in life. However, a much better comparison might be to The Rookie, the film in which an over-the-hill high school baseball coach played by Dennis Quaid makes a run at the Major Leagues. Though the Great Depression was the catalyst to move Cinderella Man, it was more of a comeback story than it was a beat-the-system story.

The story begins with Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) in the game, fighting with a broken hand because money is too tight to take some time off to allow it to heal. But because of his broken hand, he's not fighting up to his potential, either. So because this talented fighter isn't fighting well and performs poorly in the ring, the commish revokes his boxing license. And thus begins the conflict. Crowe embodies this character extremely well, portraying the cocky athlete while being the average joe-everyman at the same time, then he turns around and shows his sensitive side as the family man, and this all blends together so well, Crowe is proving he's still at the top of his game. There's an absolutely amazing scene in which Braddock is panhandling his former colleagues, shamefully asking high-ranking boxing suits for their extra money so he can pay his bills. This shows the phenomenal talent that is Russell Crowe. His buddy relationship with trainer Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) kicks off the character, and these men have absolutely impeccable chemistry. Giamatti's character isn't exactly a glamorous role, but his scenes with Crowe are so much fun to watch, it even brings out Crowe's lighthearted side, which is nice to see him take himself a little less seriously than his last performance in Master & Commander. Which brings us to his family life. His chemistry with Renee Zellweger as Mrs. Jim Braddock (Mae) is not as good. But Zellweger is probably more to blame for that. She's entirely unconvincing as this man's wife or as this family's matriarch. She seems entirely unnatural saying these lines and sometimes it even seems as though she's reading off cue cards. This character had so much to be passionate about, whether it be her concern for her husband in the ring, or her children's health, or holding together a family unit. And Zellweger said the lines that implied this passion, but the feeling just wasn't there at all. One thing confusing about this character is after Jim's first match, he comes home and she stokes his ego pretty thouroughly, even announcing his presence like a ring announcer, but shows her lack of support by never attending his matches under the guise of not wanting to see him get hurt. You can't have it both ways, but that may have been a writing flaw.

Well, after Braddock is out of the game for a while, and he and his family are as poor as they can be, circumstances arise that allow his back into the ring, and he proves he is the talented boxer he always was. Of course we already know all this, because we've seen the previews. All marketing divisions of film production companies should be disbanded, allowing the film's director to cut the previews himself. The commercials told us everything we need to know about this film. Now, maybe this wasn't a bad marketing scheme, and it's just that simple of a story, but please stop ruining the movie by showing the whole thing in the previews!

In the ring, Crowe is entirely believable as a professional athlete, besides, who doesn't believe Russell Crowe can fight somebody tooth-and-nail? However, the boxing scenes tended to be over-edited. With so many cuts throughout a match, it's hard to tell whether the performance in the ring is the actor's or the director and editor's. Otherwise, director Ron Howard did a fantastic job of pacing the story and cutting together parallels between the main plot and sub plots. There was a montage near the end of the film that Howard just hit out of the park.

Which brings us to the final conflict. If professional wrestling has taught us anything, it's that the best matches revolve around a continuing back story, pitting the shining white soul of a good guy against the cocky, arrogant, cheating bastard of a villian, clearly dressed in an implied pitch-black cowboy hat. Max Baer, played with gleeful underhandedness by Craig Bierko, has embodied such a villian. As the reigning Heavyweight champion during the Depression era, this is the man Braddock must pass through to regain the pride he once had. And everything comes together beautifully without ever resorting to cliche.

With the current state of the economy, this is a very timely story, one that applies just too well in the present day. We may not have things as bad as they did in the Great Depression, but it does provide for characters that are much easier with whom we can relate. Howard and Crowe made sure of that.

8 out of 10 Jackasses
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