In the midst of blockbuster space battles Universal debuts a heartfelt biopic of a boxer, better yet a father and husband, as he fights against all odds to support his family during the trying times of the Great Depression.
Cinderella Man is a risky venture as biopics of this stature are normally reserved for fourth quarter releases as they ready themselves for an Oscar run, hence the reason Cinderella Man was originally set for a December 17, 2004 release… Million Dollar Baby vs. Cinderella Man? Now there is an Oscar bout people would have certainly paid to see considering this movie is every bit as good as Million Dollar, then again, it is better.
Russell Crowe’s ability to bring characters to life on the big screen will never be questioned again, that is if it ever was, as he breathes life into James J. Braddock with Cinderella Man becoming the first major Oscar contender of the year.
Told on two fronts, Cinderella Man delves into the family life of a down on his luck boxer from his fallen status as a one-time boxing great as well as his tumultuous battle to keep food on the table. It’s the 1920s, Braddock (Crowe), his wife (Renee Zellweger) and their three kids have a great life but things soon change as Braddock suffers a string of losses in the ring and is forced into retirement just as America enters the darkest years of the Great Depression. Forced to move into a basement apartment, he moves from one dead end job to the next with the cold of winter just around the corner.
With the pride of his life–his family–suffering from health related issues Braddock is forced to beg for money, work the Hoboken loading docks all to suddenly find himself blessed with a second chance as his one-time boxing promoter Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) offers him a shot at fighting an up-and-coming fighter to prepare the young man for a heavyweight bout. The fight not only offers Braddock another shot in the ring, but it means money for food and electricity. Despite not a single day of training, Braddock shocks the world and his dream of a comeback seems once again energized.
It is best to leave it at that as the less you know the better, as I am certain the element of surprise and the emotional toll this movie weighs on the audience will certainly be lessened for those that already know the story, fortunately for me I was not one of those people.
Cinderella Man is Ron Howard’s greatest outing to date, and as a boxing flick and sport movie this one sits atop the pile as it is better than Rocky, Raging Bull and the aforementioned Million Dollar Baby. Howard paints a picture of authenticity as his three lead actors command the story along with a powerful group of supporting roles turned in by the likes of Bruce McGill, Paddy Considine and Craig Bierko.
Whether it is in the ring, on the street or in the dark depths of a basement apartment you will be completely enveloped by this story. Sometimes people wonder why sports films, boxing films in particular, are so popular and are always considered so good. It is because they aim to inspire and the good ones do just that. Usually you come across a down-on-his-luck or washed up sports figure and are thrust into their life and made to suffer just as they are until that one chance to grab the dream comes along and that is what Cinderella Man does to you, it is that powerful.
Russell Crowe gives a performance to remember and Cinderella Man is very likely to make a major stir during the awards season this year as it will be re-released come Oscar time just so the Academy doesn’t forget how great it is. After Crowe and Howard teamed together on the Oscar-winning picture A Beautiful Mind I should have just assumed Cinderella Man was going to be a knock-out, but I was never ready for the punch it delivered.