Thursday, June 6, 2013

Review: "Cinderella Man" Ignores the Woman Next to the Man (Happy B'day, Paul Giamatti)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 16 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Cinderella Man (2005)
Running time: 144 minutes (2 hours, 24 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for intense boxing violence and some language
DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
WRITERS: Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman; from a story by Cliff Hollingsworth
PRODUCERS: Brian Grazer, Penny Marshall, and Ron Howard
EDITORS: Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill
COMPOSER: Thomas Newman
Academy Award nominee


Starring: Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Craig Bierko, Paddy Considine, Bruce McGill, Ron Canada, Clint Howard, and Rufus Crawford

The subject of this movie review is Cinderella Man, a 2005 boxing drama and biographical film from director Ron Howard. The film is based on the life of heavyweight boxing champion, James J. Braddock (1935 to 1937), and the movie’s title is taken from Braddock’s nickname.

In 1928, James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe) was an up-and-coming prizefighter. By the early 1930, Jim Braddock was an impoverished ex-boxer – broken-down, beat-up, and as unfortunate and out of luck as so many Americans were who had hit rock bottom during the Depression. Although his boxing career was seemingly over, Braddock and still had a wife, Mae (Renée Zellweger), and three children to support, and to him they were what mattered most. Braddock was unable to pay his bills and eventually had to seek Public Relief (kind of like modern welfare); he even begged for money when things got that desperate.

However, Braddock never gave up on his dream to be a great boxer, even when the Boxing Commission took away his license to fight, and chance brings him a one-time fight. With his manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti), at his side, Jim grabs the success of that fight and pushes his way back into boxing, each success keeping his family with a roof over their heads, food on the table, and light and heat. Eventually, he gets his dream match – a heavyweight championship fight with the reigning champion, the unstoppable Max Baer (Craig Bierko). Now, Jim, considered too old and finished by many in the boxing community, must face Baer, a man renowned for having killed two men in the ring.

Ron Howard’s biopic, Cinderella Man, based upon the real life of Depression-era boxing hero, Jim Braddock, was one of the best reviewed films of 2005, but considering the reviews and the pedigrees of the filmmakers involved, the film was not well attended. That’s a shame because Cinderella Man is one of those proverbial “good movies” of which many people, especially media watchers, complain there aren’t enough. This is actually Howard’s epic film, an ode to middle class values from a man, who as a child actor, played one of the ultimate Middle American children, Opie Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show” and later played the teenage version of that in Richie Cunningham of “Happy Days.”

Cinderella Man is a film where you can really root for the hero, Jim Braddock. He’s the (not so) little guy battling against doubters, haters, financial misfortune, poverty, unemployment, etc., but he believes in himself. Though his back is often against the wall, he never quits, and he ain’t too proud to beg – if it keeps his family fed and off the streets. Russell Crowe’s performance embodies that plucky American spirit, but he shows something else we Americans really like – grit – the kind of grit it takes to fight the tough times. In fact, Paul Giamatti’s Joe Gould is like that voice inside our heads that keeps pushing us, and just when we think that the voice has left us, it’s back in our corner when it sees that we’re willing to fight out of the bad times. That’s the acting dynamic between Crowe and Giamatti – the hero and the voice of encouragement.

Cinderella Man actually does a few things to keep from being a perfect film. The lighting and cinematography are too murky; everything looks like an Old Master painting covered in soot. The script by Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman is good, but not great. One reason that it isn’t great is because it takes the easy road of turning Renée Zellweger’s Mae Braddock into the little wife at home fretting away for her man. I can imagine that Mae does as much to hold things together for the Braddocks, and Howard and his writers don’t have the imagination to really show her struggle – what she does to support the family unit. Mae is just a prop the filmmakers use when they need to send Jim home for scenes that don’t involve boxing or work.

Ultimately, this is Ron Howard’s Middle American fable, and he uses the elements of cinema to manipulate the audience as much as Steve Spielberg did in films like E.T. the Extraterrestrial and The Color Purple. However, Cinderella Man has many genuine and honest moments that speak to the American family and of the grit it takes for a family to keep it together. That’s enough to make me ignore the warts.

7 of 10

2006 Academy Awards, USA: 3 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Paul Giamatti), “Best Achievement in Film Editing” (Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill), “Best Achievement in Makeup” (David LeRoy Anderson and Lance Anderson)

2006 BAFTA Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Screenplay – Original” (Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman)

2006 Golden Globes, USA: 2 nominations “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Russell Crowe) and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Paul Giamatti)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


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