Cinderella Man (2005)

Summer of Film #2 of 100
When I read this from Roger Ebert last week I thought my expectations were off the mark for Cinderella Man. I had figured it would be a manipulative drama that used boxing only to hide what it really was; a Ron Howard family drama. Ebert wrote:

I think of Crowe as a tough customer, known to get in the occasional brawl. Yes, he plays men who are inward and complex, as in “The Insider” and “A Beautiful Mind,” or men who are tempered and wise, as in “Master and Commander.” But neither he nor anyone else in a long time has played such a nice man as the boxer Jim Braddock. You’d have to go back to actors like James Stewart and Spencer Tracy to find such goodness and gentleness. Tom Hanks could handle the assignment, but do you see any one of them as a prizefighter? Tracy, maybe.

I was right though. Cinderella Man is a manipulative drama that uses boxing to mask its true self. Which would be fine if it hand waved its way through the boxing to get us to the meat of the emotion of the characters; but Ron Howard treats this one the other way around. He hand waves through the emotional mumbo-jumbo and does a virtuoso job on the boxing part. Unfortunately, more than fifty percent of the screen time is devoted to the manipulation of our emotions.

I understand the genre of man’s triumph in the face of insurmountable odds. What I do not understand is the devotion of three quarters of the film showing me the odds and then barely following through on the triumph. Jim Braddock was poor, he was failing, his children were cold-hungry-cute, his wife was cold-hungry-cute-forlorn, the times were harsh, the milkman-electriccompany-heat bills were unpaid, the docks won’t hire him- and that’s one-and-a-half hours of the movie. Then with a flourish he overcomes. Cue credits. This could have been a better film.

Ebert is right, however- but not in the way I thought he was. Russell Crowe is everything the description above would lead you to suspect and he single-handedly saves this movie from movie mediocrity, allowing it to be a decent summer film. For my money, though, you’re better off watching (or re-watching) Seabiscuit.


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