(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry)
Long before Grand Theft Auto was a drug-dealer, hooker-killing video game, it was the light-comedy directorial debut of a young Ron Howard. Now 28 years and 20 films later, Howard, who I still think of as Opie, is an Oscar winning director (A Beautiful Mind). His new film, Cinderella Man, reunites him with his A Beautiful Mind co-star, Russell Crowe. Their new film tells the true story of James Braddock (Crowe), a heavyweight boxer in 20's and 30's. It is a classic American rags-to-riches story. Braddock, along with his trainer, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) ride the roaring twenties almost to the top of the fight game. But in 1929, both the stock market and Braddock come crashing down. Considered washed up as a fighter, Braddock tries to get work on the docks to support his wife (Renee Zellweger) and three kids, but it's the depression and times are tough. Just as things are looking grim, Gould gets Braddock a fight against one of the heavyweight contenders. Against all odds, Braddock wins and then keeps winning until he gets a shot at the heavyweight title against the fearsome Max Baer (Craig Bierko). In case you were watching TV in the 60's and that name seems strangely familiar to you, Max Baer Jr., a.k.a. Jethro Bodine, is the fighter's son. But I digress. Braddock beats Baer to become the heavyweight champ and the rest, as they say, is history. Sorry to spoil it for you but it happened in 1934.
Cinderella Man is slick piece of movie making and it definitely pulls on the heart strings, but there is never any real drama. From the beginning of the movie, there is never any doubt as to how it's going to end. Of course, it is a true story and they don't change the basic facts for the movie so like Seabiscuit, you know how it's going to go. Ron Howard is very good at what he does and Cinderella Man looks very good and feels very good to watch. The movie was shot in Toronto which apparently looks like New York city in the 1930's! Actually, Toronto has Maple Leaf Gardens, built in 1931, which is a good fill-in for the original Madison Square Gardens which no longer exists. Russell Crowe is very, very good as the title character. His presence, combined with my fav guy, Paul Giamatti (Sideways), makes Cinderella Man very enjoyable. Renee Zellweger, no longer one of my favs, and coming off her horribly overacted but Oscar winning performance in Cold Mountain, is very restrained here. I attribute this to Howard's good directing. Paddy Considine who was the father in In America, plays a troubled friend of Braddock's. As usual, watch for Ron Howard's brother, Clint. In Cinderella Man, he plays the boxing referee. He is accompanied by Howard's father Rance who plays the Ring Announcer. And I have to mention Bruce McGill who plays the boxing impressario. He is a great character actor and I have loved him ever since he played the Elvis-impersonating brother of Michelle Pfeiffer in Into the Night. BTW, if you are ever at a loss about what to rent some Saturday night, Into the Night is one of the weirdest, greatest, unknown movies on my list.
I felt kind of torn by Cinderella Man. On the one hand, there is no suspense at all because Crowe as Braddock just cuts through his opponents like the proverbial hot knife through butter and there's not even any real crisis in his personal life beyond getting his electric and heat turned off. But the characters are appealing, and although Crowe and Zellweger don't have a great chemistry together, Crowe and Giamatti do. And I did get drawn into spectacle of it and into how big a deal this guy was in the 1930's during the depression. Besides, I'd rather go see this re-creation of the great fights of the 1930's than watch the pay-for-view of the upcoming Tyson fight to see if he bites somebody.