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IN SHORT: The first "best of" for the year. [Rated PG-13 for intense boxing violence and some language. 144 minutes]
Even when he isn't at the top of his game, director Ron Howard has yet to deliver a film that isn't worth watching. When he is at the top of his game, which is the case with Cinderella Man, the result is nothing short of spectacular. In this particular case, the film delivers four Oscar worthy performances built on the bones of a clear script and direction that are worth nods of their own. June is usually way too early to be tossing around the "O" word but not in this case.
For boxer James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe), whose pro career is just beginning to make noise, 1928 was a great year to be alive. He, wife Mae (Renee Zellweger) and their three children live comfortably in a modern home in their native state of New Jersey. Jim and Mae have big dreams. Jim's manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti), sees a clear path to incredible fame and wealth for all of 'em and, like almost everyone else with any kind of money, (they) put it in the stock market.
Need we explain what happens in 1929? We thought not.
The nice house gone, the career up in smoke, Braddock falls back on his physical strength to haul cargo at the local docks. It isn't a steady gig. It's a day by day, luck of the draw toss-up with dozens of able bodied men lined up waiting for the foreman to point a lucky finger. Even on the good days, the income isn't enough to feed the kids and keep up with the bills. The man is too proud to take relief offered by the federal government. The man is too proud to beg for help from his friends. The man is about to discover that pride is nothing to get fussy about when things get really bad. Like most of the country in the years post 1929, things are really, really bad.
Even worse is that the boxing powers that be strip him of his license to battle. A day job on the docks doesn't cut the mustard for a man who has sworn to keep his family together regardless of the cost. That the cost is far beyond anything he can accomplish makes the story all the more gripping. What is made available to him is a "tune up" bout, for the only real heavyweight contender -- it isn't Braddock but you can fill in the pieces. We'll say no more
Ron Howard's Cinderella Man is a flawless piece of filmmaking that doesn't let any aspect of its stories overwhelm any other. Howard gets, as expected, top notch performances by the A-list stars but also brings out the best performances in the supporting cast as well. These include Craig Bierko as heavyweight champion Max Baer (real life dad of the Beverly Hillbillies actor that played Jethro!), boxing commissioner Jimmy Johnson (Bruce McGill) and the one fictional character, a dock worker/ union agitator named Mike Wilson (Paddy Considiine)
There is nothing to dislike about the film. The only bit of reasoning
keeping the dollar rating below from hitting a ten out of ten is that,
the perfect ten has always been reserved for films that made us want
to get back on line to see a second time, immediately. We're sure that
the DVD will be added to our collection when the time comes. For now,
it's getting the highest reco we give.
Don't argue with us. Just see the film.
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