A review of “Cinderella Man” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language and sports violence

Run Time: 2 hours, 24 minutes

 

Russell Crowe, it’s great to see you again.  Crowe is masterful in this squeaky-clean biopic of triumph-over-the-odds prizefighter James J. Braddock, a legend in his own time.

Ron Howard’s affecting drama is a tale of true grit in the face of insurmountable odds.  Jimmy B. is on his game and rising up the ranks of professional boxing when the rug is pulled out from under him in the form of the Great Depression.  Quick as a wink the lean and mean fighting machine is buried in debt and scrabbling for extra cash to put food on the table for wife Mae (Renee Zellweger) and their three small children.

Down but not out, Jimmy relies on hard work, outsized pride and the goodness of manager Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) to scrape by. With the threat of poverty shadowing every move Jimmy shifts his focus to hardscrabble dock work and loses his touch in the ring.

Gould, master of the snappy comeback and a wily promoter to boot, won’t give up on his golden boy.  He encourages Jimmy to train on the side and acquire a hard left hook to compensate for a bum right hand.

Desperate to bolster his wounded rep Jimmy works his way up the fight chain of command as fans sit up and take notice of. Naturally the Rocky-esque underdog ultimately comes face-to-face with hardcore pugilist cum heavyweight champ (Craig Bierko as Max Baer) who thinks nothing of killing his opponent in the ring

In true Ron Howard style the quasi-schmaltzy Cinderella rings of formula but has moxie to spare.  Braddock is worthy of a cinematic valentine; an intrepid soul who changed the face of courage in our nation during its most desperate hour. 

Crowe has what it takes to make anyone a believer; loads of charisma with subtler shades of hushed reserve. It doesn’t hurt to have Zellweger standing by her man come hell or high water or consummate pro Giamatti doing duty as a guardian angel.

Howard may rely on cliché but he knows how to milk a melodrama.  Be it swallowing his pride and begging for charity or sucking it up in the ring, Howard’s Jimmy gives edge-of-the-seat punch to a solidly slick project.  Lensing is lush, period details impeccable and fight footage first-rate. Sure to be a summer crowd pleaser.