Cinderella Man Review
The makers of Cinderella Man must be cursing Clint Eastwood. With sights set firmly on Oscar glory, Ron Howard’s drama actually went into production before Million Dollar Baby, but that film’s quick turnaround and huge success at the last ceremony spells doom for the chances of Cinderella Man at next year’s awards, for there is surely no possibility of the Academy honouring two boxing films in a row. The fact that it simply isn’t good enough to be in the reckoning should also count against it. Slick and rousing entertainment it may be, but Cinderella Man is far from great cinema.
1928, and James J. Braddock (Crowe) is a light heavyweight contender making a good living and comfortably supporting his wife (Zellweger) and young family. But the depression hits hard and by 1933 the family are on the breadline, struggling to feed the children and keep the electricity connected. Braddock had all his money tied up in stocks and the crash left him ruined. Unemployment is at 15 million and the docks only take on a handful of men each day, while the purses from fights are nowhere near as lucrative as they used to be. Jim also has to contend with a recurring injury to a broken bone in his right hand, which looks set to be the final nail in the coffin of his boxing career.
Just as circumstances seem to be at their lowest ebb, Braddock’s old friend and trainer Joe Gould (Giamatti) offers him the chance of one more fight and a $250 purse to step in as a late replacement for a bout with a possible contender. The popular opinion is that Braddock is there just to make up the numbers but, to everyone’s astonishment, he wins and this sets him on the road to a comeback that sees him emerge as a hero to the deprived masses.
Rocky meets Seabiscuit in this crowd pleasing true story about the lengths to which a good man will go to look after his family, and there’s plenty to enjoy in the film’s mid-section as Braddock strives to keep his dignity in the face of adversity. Though the soul of Cinderella Man is the overwhelming decency of Braddock the man, rather than the fall and rise of Braddock the boxer, the fight sequences certainly haven’t been skimped on, with real impact and immediacy and punches that hurt. The period is warmly evoked and Howard for the most part manages to resist the temptation to underpin the emotional scenes with big orchestral sweeps. But ultimately it’s glossy pap that, while suggesting grimness, manages to romanticise the depression somewhat, turning what was a hellish period in American history into a cosy sepia toned drama.
Crowe is quite outstanding, investing Braddock with such a warm streak of humanity and honour that it’s impossible not to root for him. Physically he’s impressive too, even managing to squash his face into bearing more than a passing resemblance to the real life Braddock. Zellweger is thankfully more restrained after her Calamity Jane histrionics in Cold Mountain, but she doesn’t have much to work with in the underwritten little wife role. And if the film does manage to hoodwink the Academy then Giamatti will probably get swept along in the nominations. He’s very good, as he always is, but it’s a shouty, showy performance. After being scandalously overlooked for Sideways, he could ironically earn himself a nod for what is a much less subtle and interesting role.
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