Cinderella Man

In the late 1920’s Jim Braddock was a boxer with a future. After many wins, he was poised to take his place as one of the greatest boxers of his time. Things took a bad turn for Jim in 1929 when he first lost a 15 round decision to Tommy Loughran, and then lost everything in the Stock Market Crash.

In the new film Cinderella Man Academy Award winner Russell Crowe stars as Jim Braddock in one of the most satisfying films in recent memory. Down and almost out, Braddock struggles to provide for his wife Mae (Renee Zellweger), and his three children. A series of hand injuries has forced Jim to resort to fighting in pick up fights, as he is unable to find work as a laborer.

Things go from bad to worse for Jim when he breaks a bone in his hand and is unable to provide entertainment for those in a local boxing match which results in the suspension of his boxing license. With his electricity turned off in the dead of winter, and his children coughing from the effects of the cold, Jim is forced to hide his injury and seek work as a day laborer to get by.

As Jim and Mae debate sending the kids to her sister in order to better provide for them, a ray of hope arises when Jim’s old manger Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti), says he has arranged a fight with a $250 payday.

Since Jim’s hand has healed, he takes the fight seeing it as a chance to get caught up on his bills. Fate steps in when in a shocking turnaround; Jim wins the fight via knock out, and captures the imagination of the local sports community. Before long, Jim is racking up win after win and improving his lot in life as he prepares for an unexpected title shot against the devastating and unbeaten Max Baer (Craig Bierko).

The fact that Baer has killed two men in the ring is a cause of great stress for Jim and Mae as she worries for the safety of her husband while Jim sees the fight as his chance to provide some financial security for his family.

Anyone who has seen the trailer can be sure that the big fight will take place, and that the underdog will find himself in a battle against overwhelming odds, but what makes Cinderella Man such a captivating film is the captivating human drama that propels the film. There have been many boxing films ranging from “Rocky” to “Raging Bull”, that have depicted the graphic action of the ring, but few have reached the depths of human drama that this film does. Jim is not looking for glory, he is simply looking to provide for his family the best way that he is able be it in the ring or hauling cargo at the docks.

Crowe is riveting as he is able to convey his characters plight to the audience without making it seem forced or heavy handed. Where Crowe truly shines is his ability to mix the emotional sequences of the film with the athletic and action filled ring sequences and not lose any of his character. Far too often actors fail to convince in one aspect when they try to mix drama and action, but Crowe easily transitions between the demands of the role proving again that he is the most gifted actor in Hollywood. The steady direction of Ron Howard keeps the film moving at a crisp pace, without allowing the story to become mired in sentiment.

The only real issue I had with the film is that the talented Zellweger is not given enough to do, as beyond doting for and worry about her family, she is not given much to do aside from stand by while the action occurs around her.

That being said Cinderella Man, is a triumph of film making, and should be a forced to contend with come Oscar season.

4.5 Stars out of 5