When I was a kid I used to watch reruns of
THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW all the time. Who would have ever imagined
that little Opie Taylor would grow up to become one of the most impressive
directors in Hollywood? I think I can safely say I have never seen a Ron
Howard film I didn't like. Regardless of whether it's comedy, drama, or
action, the man knows how to tell a story and captivate us. Plus he has
a visual style that is constantly growing and changing with every film.
In 2001 Howard released A BEAUTIFUL MIND, based on a true story, and
starring Russell Crowe. The film took home four Oscars, including Best
Director. Now Crowe and Howard have teamed up once again telling yet
another true story. So can they possibly outdo their previous effort?
CINDERELLA MAN is the story of James Braddock. Jim was a boxer, and
a good one at that. His trainer Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) had led him
into a good career, which included a a record of no knockouts. In 1928
he had it all. The fame, the money, and the posh living came easy...
until the Great Depression hit. In just a few years Braddock hit the
bottom with so many others. The money was gone, as was the nice house,
and Braddock even got his boxing license taken away due to a bad hand.
Jim and his wife Mae (Renée
Zellweger) were barely making it, and trying very hard to keep their
family together. James would give his meager meal portions to his hungry
children. Mae would add water to the milk bottles to make them last just
a bit longer. As bad as things were, they were getting worse by the day.
Then Jim got a break. Joe Gould showed up with an opportunity.
Braddock was going to fight again, but under one condition. He had to
take a fall. It was a one time chance to make some decent money, and
might even help Braddock get caught up for a change. But once he hit the
ring, something amazing happened. Jim made a comeback. It was as
if the time away from the fights has made him a different man. Suddenly
the boxer everyone counted out was back in a big way. But the most
unexpected thing was that this man everyone had forgotten about had now became
a hero to the people in his community. His comeback gave them hope.
Jim wasn't fighting to make money anymore. He was fighting to save his
family, and he was giving men like him some incredible inspiration. The
question then became how far could he go before it all ended.
This film is one of those stories that just grabs you and won't let go.
There aren't many movies that accurately depict the hardships people
experienced during those times. This one shows it brilliantly.
When Jim goes through rough times, it's truly heartwrenching. There's
one scene where he goes to the wealthy men of the boxing commission and begs
for spare change. It's a painful moment for him, and we can't help but
feel his pain. Like those who lived around him, we want Jim to succeed.
Russell Crowe is again amazing with his performance. The guy hits the
bullseye with every line. He plays Braddock with quietly layered
intensity. It's just so impressive, because characters like this can
easily fail in the hands of the wrong actor. Crowe nails it, which isn't
surprising considering his proven talent, but it's still incredible to watch.
I can honestly say I'm not a big fan of
Renée Zellweger, and never
really have been. I just never saw what everyone else did in her.
She is good though in this film. Perhaps there were other actresses who
could've played this part, but Zellweger does it nicely. Her role as Mae
is that of a frustrated woman, who cares deeply about her husband's wellbeing.
She also manages to capture the essence of a woman from that time and those
circumstances. Paul Giamatti is superb as Joe Gould. This
guy was totally robbed this year at the Academy Awards. The fact he
didn't at least receive a nomination for his performance in SIDEWAYS
was a crime. I have a good feeling that the Oscars will have no choice
but to excessively praise him for this film. Giamatti does a lot with
this character, and in many ways steals the show. His interaction with
Crowe is pure greatness. I predict an easy Oscar, which to be quite
honest is overdue. The supporting performances are great too,
particularly with Craig Bierko as the imposing champion boxer Max Baer.
The guy supposedly killed men in the ring, and never showed remorse for his
actions. Bierko oozes belligerent evil in this role. Here's an
actor I've always enjoyed watching, and often times can be very humorous when
he wants to. But here he is so frightening, and perfectly plays the
opposite of every good quality exhibited by Braddock. Every film about a
good guy can only work well if it has a good villain. Craig is just
Ron Howard continues to blow us away with his direction. The style of
this film is bleak and depressing, but it works very well with the story.
What Howard does here is take us down with Braddock, and build us up when
things start going good again. It's a journey, one that we take with
these characters, and it sucks us in exactly as is should. One repeated
effect that I really enjoyed was the way Howard handled the boxing scenes.
Ron has always been good with his visuals, and manages to do unique things
here as well. During the boxing scenes, certain punches are followed by
momentary freeze frames and camera flash sounds. It takes us into the
fight in a new and different way, like watching it through the eyes of a
photographer. Every hit is as intense as it would be if we were actually
there. This is why Ron Howard is a great director. The guy knows
how to reinvent genres, and do things in new and interesting ways. Sure
we've seen the rags to riches stories before, and there have been many sports
films that build up to moments of glory, but Howard still manages to put a new
twist on the film's storytelling. Best Director? You better
believe it. This guy deserves that award by default. He is easily
one of the best directors working in Hollywood today. I also want to
commend the use of Thomas Newman for composing the score. Newman's
scores are always emotional, and seem to work particularly well with period
pieces. This film is no exception.
CINDERELLA MAN is an
excellent film. It's one of those stories that just astounds us.
The combination of Howard behind the camera and this talented cast makes for a
terrific experience. I've thought long and hard about whether or not I
could find any flaws with it, but I really enjoyed what I saw. I'll go
ahead and predict Oscars all around, as they would certainly be well-deserved.
Sometimes inspirational films can become trite and boring, or just plain
repetitive. CINDERELLA MAN thankfully never falls into that trap.
You can't help but be impressed with this tale, if for no other reason than it
makes us realize how good we've had it. Jim Braddock was an amazing man,
and this film does a fine job of showing why.
BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of
1 to 10, 10 being the best, I give CINDERELLA MAN a 10.
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