Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man opens this Friday on a wave of publicity and hype. It delivers.
The first we see of James Braddock, he is on top of the world. He is an undefeated fighter on the fast track, the “Irish hope” soon to be contending for the heavyweight title. He’s making good money in the roaring 20’s, and has a great relationship with a wife and kids who love him. That was in 1928.
Fast forward five years and America is in the throes of the Great Depression. Braddock is a shadow of his former self in the ring, having suffered a string of injuries and setbacks. Gone is the house and the money – he and his wife struggle to keep the lights on in their dingy basement apartment. All they have left is their family and the will to fight to survive and stay together.
Braddock, of course, embodies the everyday American fighting his way through the Depression. He works hard, sacrifices, and swallows his pride to do whatever he can do provide for his family. The promise of the movie’s beginning is soon turned upside down to frustration and nearly to despair. But not quite.
Braddock never quits fighting, even when he’s not in the ring. Sure enough, when things look bleakest, he gets a second chance. And then he improbably begins to resurrect his career, becoming the Cinderella Man.
When asked what changed, what he was fighting for, he replies, “Milk.” He knows what it is to have nothing and desperately wants to provide hope for his family – and in doing so he provides hope for others also.
Russell Crowe turns in a typically superb performance as Braddock, as does Renee Zellwegger as his wife. Both are wonderfully convincing in the lead roles. Paul Giamatti , playing Braddock’s friend and loudmouth trainer, nearly manages to steal several scenes. The fight scenes are wonderfully gritty (like the rest of the film) and are not programmatic or formulaic. Director Ron Howard (I say give him the Oscar) tells a marvelous story marvelously well.
The whole thing just fits together perfectly, managing to be inspirational without being cheesy or over the top. Many in the crowd at our screening applauded and there was a noticeable buzz when the credits rolled.
One would shortchange Cinderella Man by describing it as simply a boxing movie. The boxing is great, but it is really a vehicle to tell the larger story. It’s a movie about courage, determination, and toughness.
One of the nicest aspects of the movie is its portrayal of a deep and strong marriage, one that weathers the good times and the bad, and models the kind of tough-minded resolve that is often so lacking in our day. This is not just a guys-night-out flick – my wife described it as “excellent.” It is an uplifting story you should enjoy as immensely as we did.
Go watch it this weekend.