Tuesday, June 21, 2005

"Cinderella Man"

During the vacation, I caught the new Ron Howard/Russell Crowe film "Cinderella Man." It was, a little to my surprise, the best film I've seen in 2005.

Going in, I figured "Well, it's a boxing picture," though I hoped with Ron Howard involved there would prove to be more to it than that. My faith was well-founded.

The riches-to-rags-to-riches story of Depression-era fighter James J. Braddock is an incredible one, and "Cinderella Man" makes one wonder what took Hollywood so long to grab onto it. The first third of the film drags a little, but the story is so compelling that it picks up steam quickly. No doubt dramatic liberties have been taken with the story (and heavyweight champ Max Baer is portrayed as such a cad that you wonder if his son Jethro is going to sue everyone involved), but it's been a long time since such an inspirational, unabashedly optimistic movie came down the pike.

Crowe once again proves himself (concierge-battering aside) to be perhaps his generation's finest actor, fully inhabiting the role of the quietly iron-willed Braddock. There hasn't been an actor more capable of losing his star identity inside a character since De Niro in his late 70-'s early 80's heyday.

Of course, there's a lot of boxing violence in the film, but don't let that scare you away if that's not your thing; my wife gets queasy over any movie violence, and yet she went nuts for this flick. We'd even go back and take our kids to it were it not for its profusion of flagrant violations of the Third Commandment (mostly via Paul Giamatti, who plays Braddock's manager). Hopefully they'll go back in and clean it up for a broadcast version someday.

The film's underlying message, and it's portrayal of Braddock's faithfulness to his family and integrity, is almost counter-cultural in this day and age. With the caveats about violence and profanity noted, I highly recommend "Cinderella Man."

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