CINDERELLA MAN

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

                “Cinderella Man” is an absorbing period piece with good performances and grand cinematography.  It is also violent from beginning to end.  In our current emphasis on fitness, it is hard to believe that the brutal pummeling of one man into submission by another was ever seen, along with baseball, as the national sport.  Consider how we’ve progressed:  today men and women flex their fitness egos by running on asphalt roads until they induce the need for knee surgery at 55.  But at least it’s not their brains. 

                Much of  “Cinderella Man” takes place in the ring, beautifully filmed in agonizing close-up by Salvatore Totino, who brings us all the flying teeth, spit, blood, and flesh that elude the audience in the back rows of Madison Square Garden.  This was the Depression era sport that brought people to their radios all over the country.  It was a sport that built heroes.

                By Christmas of 1933, Jim (Russell Crowe) and Mae Braddock (Rene Zellweger) had sold the last of their possessions to pay the electric bill.  Like most of the country, the three young Braddock children and their parents were hungry.  Jim’s manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) promises to get his unemployed friend “one more fight.” 

                Gould’s canny, sharp, coaching helps Jim win several fights as the underdog and Jim becomes the symbol of hope for everyone who has no hope whatsoever.  The country has raised Jim Braddock on its shoulders and now awaits his fight with Max Baer (Craig Bierko), the terrible tempered fighter who has killed two men in the ring (detached brain, one autopsy said).  The fight with Baer is gripping – if your eyes are open - and by now the audience is caught right up in Madison Square Garden on this night in June of 1935.  What gets us through this particular scene is the knowledge that in real life Jim Braddock survived Max Baer. 

                Director Ron Howard has washed his movie in umber until everyone is dark.  We see the magnificent city at its lowest – Hooverville, the shack city in Central Park, the job lines where luck is your only shot, the relief lines. 

                The acting.  Rene Zellweger does well by the loving wife who lives in daily fear of failing her children and the boxing ring, though with that crinkly nose I was afraid she might burst into a sad song.  It is the duet of Paul Giamatti and Russell Crowe that lifts the movie.  Giamatti creates a unique manager who understands his fighter.  Russell Crowe plays Braddock without a scintilla of excess.  Read his eyes; that’s all you need. 

The final round of the final fight will hold you to the extraordinary sight of Baer, Braddock, and Gould while all of America listens as their symbol fights for his family and for them.  It’s a terrific movie if you can rise above the doctor’s description of a former Baer fatality:  “the brain was knocked loose from its connective tissue.”   

 


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