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Laramie Movie Scope:
Cinderella Man

An All-American Sports Hero

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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June 5, 2005 -- “Cinderella Man” is a sports comeback story that is quite different than the usual Hollywood drivel. It is a boxing movie, but without the usual Hollywood characters. It would have the usual Hollywood characters if it wasn't based on the true story of boxer James J. Braddock (real name Walter Braddock). If it was a Hollywood story, they probably would have tacked on some lame suicide ending. They certainly would not have written the story of a real stand-up guy who loved his wife and kids, who reimbursed the government for his public support money and who continued to work in construction for years after he retired from the ring. That would be too corny, if it wasn't a true story.

We pick up the story of Braddock (played by Russell Crowe of “A Beautiful Mind”) in the late 1920s when he was a heavyweight contender from New Jersey fighting his way to the top. Later, during the great Depression of the 1930s, we see him broke, his career shattered by numerous injuries. His boxing license is revoked after his final fight when he breaks his right hand. He can't hit hard with his left hand, so his boxing days are over. He works as a longshoreman, unable to make enough money to support his wife and kids. He hits rock bottom when he can't afford to pay for heat and electricity in his apartment. He has to beg for money and go on public assistance in order to keep the lights on and put enough food on the table.

One day his manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti of “Sideways”) tells Braddock he has lined up a fight for him, against a top contender, John “Corn” Griffin (played by a real professional boxer, Art Binkowski). Gould explains that the boxing commission will reinstate him for this one fight only. Nobody else will take on this highly-ranked boxer because of the lack of training time. Gould sold the idea of having Braddock box the man because of Braddock's record of never having been knocked out. Braddock takes the fight because he needs the money. The fight is the beginning of an amazing comeback story in which Braddock becomes a hero to every downtrodden working class person suffering in the depression. It is an incredible rags-to-riches story that you literally could not make up.

Crowe is perfectly cast as the gritty fighter with a very soft side. Braddock is tough in the ring, but tender with his family. Crowe plays both sides of his character's personality with equal facility. Renée Zellweger of “Cold Mountain” stars as Braddock's wife, Mae. Zellweger is perfect for this kind of “stand by your man” role. Craig Bierko (“The Long Kiss Goodnight”) turns in a dazzling supporting performance as champion boxer Max Baer (who was also a movie star, and whose son starred in the TV hit “The Beverly Hillbillies”). Bierko perfectly captures both the arrogance and the fury of Baer inside and outside of the ring.

The boxing scenes are excellently staged by boxing choreographer Nick Powell and stunt coordinator Steve Lucescu, assisted by boxing consultant Angelo Dundee (who has worked in Muhammad Ali's corner). These are the most realistic-looking fight scenes since those in “Ali.” The camera work by Salvatore Totino (“Any Given Sunday,” “The Missing”) is exceptional, even in very low-light conditions. Production designer Wynn Thomas (“A Beautiful Mind”) does a great job with the gritty 1930's look of the film. The film is directed by Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind,” “Apollo 13”). Howard knows how to get great performances out of his actors, and he's working with an exceptional cast here. About the only thing that doesn't really work all that well in the film is a sub-plot about a labor organizer, Mike Wilson (played by Paddy Considine of “In America”). Wilson's story is supposed to be a counterpoint to Braddock's story, but is instead a pointless digression.

The film captures not only the inspirational story of Braddock, but the grinding poverty, hoplessness and despair of the depression. Few films have captured this historical period as well. It is reminiscent of another depression-era boxing movie, an overlooked little gem called “Hard Times,” starring Charles Bronson and James Coburn. “Cinderella Man” is a well-made and well-acted film that faithfully recreates a time, a life and a spirit worthy of remembrance. This is an emotionally powerful film, and some people don't like films which force them to feel emotions. If you don't mind having some feelings, this is an exceptional film. This film rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2005 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)