A TRUE FAIRY TALE
I couldn't help but feel a sense of patriotic pride while watching Ron Howard's latest cinematic feat, "Cinderella Man." It may be a movie about boxing, and a thrilling one indeed, but I was mostly consumed by the historical retelling of life during the Great Depression, an experience most people alive today never had to endure.
Russell Crowe plays the legendary Jim Braddock, a blue-blooded New York city worker who became a professional boxer in the mid 20s with the support of his wife Mae (Renee Zellweger), and his three children Jay, Rosemarie and Howard.
With a string of victories early in his career the Braddocks live a comfortable lifestyle in an upscale neighborhood before the great stock market crash sends an entire nation reeling. Just when his luck couldn't get any worse, a broken right hand earns Braddock a line of defeats so crippling that his loyal manager/trainer Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) is afraid to put in him the ring. His license gets revoked which puts Braddock and his family in the rundown projects of New York City and makes him unable to pay the heat bill.
It's no spoiler to inform you that Braddock would eventually get back into the ring (hence the name 'Cinderella Man') and crawl back into the national boxing spotlight. But it's everything that happens before, which the movie spends a considerable time on, that makes this picture worth seeing.
Unable to fight, Braddock desperately seeks employment down on the docks where work isn't guaranteed, and men are picked to move sacks of imports by a guy who points to them from the other side of the fence. There is no appeals process for the majority who are sent back home without work, even for those who may have worked the previous day.
Braddock is the epitome of the great American spirit. He seeks to do nothing more than provide for his family, and will even work with a broken hand to put food on the table.
In today's time we have massive government assistance programs for the less fortunate, and yet, never has anybody working today faced the conditions of the Great Depression. They didn't have Welfare, unemployment, entitlements or government handouts back when food wasn't a guarantee - and yet they got by, because they had to.
Sure, some found the Great Depression too great to get through. Suicides increased and lesser men left their families. But there were many more men like Braddock - who waited until he was at the bottommost part of the deepest barrel before going before the Department of Emergency Relief to get government cash for the heat bill. Without it, Mae threatened to send the kids away to better-off relatives.
It's not unusual today for people to wait in lines for government money and unemployment checks. What is unusual - something you would never expect to see - happens when Braddock goes back into the relief line for the second time. What he does is deeply moving.
But, as the title of the film suggests, Braddock gets one last opportunity to enter the ring thanks to his manager. "This isn't a favor," Joe tells him. The guy who was supposed to fight Jimmy Johnston (Bruce McGill) backed out at the last second and no one was willing to take his place with such a small amount of time to train…except Braddock that is.
A surprise victory leads to another and then another will lead him to fight the heavyweight champion, Max Baer (Craig Bierko), who has killed two of his previous opponents and is a 10-1 favorite against Braddock.
The fight, which is the film's climax, looks sharp. Cinematographer Salvatore Totino makes an unlikely Russell Crowe out to look like a first-class heavyweight, emphasizing the impact of his jabs and punches. The choreography is convincing and fans of the "Rocky" movies will be impressed.
"Cinderella Man" succeeds on every level and is a great work of inspiration. The chemistry between Crowe and Giamatti, two superb actors is flawless and makes for great entertainment this summer season at the movies.