In a time when America needed a champion, an unlikely hero would arise, proving how hard a man would fight to win a second chance for his family and himself. Suddenly thrust into the national spotlight, boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) would defy the odds against him and stun the world with one of the greatest comebacks in history. Driven by love for his family, he willed an impossible dream to come true.
Million Dollar Baby cleaned up at the 2004 Oscars and rightly so, a riveting drama about personal struggle and boxing. American director Ron Howard (Splash, Apollo 13) is no doubt hoping lightning will strike twice for his new film about another underdog in the ring, James J. Braddock. His latest film Cinderella Man has all the hallmarks of an 'oscar pic' and it reunites him with Australian actor Russell Crowe (Gladiator), nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for their last project together, A Beautiful Mind (2001).
Cinderella Man is set in New York during the down years of the Great Depression. Russell Crowe plays real-life boxer Jame J. Braddock, a working class hero who fights his way back into the ring after a spectacular fall from grace. Battling injury, controversy, and with a wife (Renee Zellwegger) and three young children to support, the odds are stacked against him. Braddock and his feisty manager Joe Gould (the great Paul Giamatti) cook up a scheme to pit him against the reigning world heavyweight champ Max Baer (Criag Bierko), a killer in the ring.
The title Cinderella Man implies fairytale and that's just what this film is. Only it is a hellishly simplistic, over-sentimentalised fairytale that feels more like a Hallmark greeting card than the powerful, multi-layered drama it should have been. It does have its moments though. Crowe's brute performance is fantastic to watch with his and Giamatti's scenes in particular terrific. That is when the film really sparks to life out of an otherwise dreary, by the numbers quagmire. There is also a lot of attention to detail spent on the period (1930s) and the 'sweet science' of boxing. But everyone is so squeaky clean and noble in this film it made my flesh crawl. It is no surprise though as this is the kind of formula Howard's movies possess now. He has become the new Steven Spielberg, ironically at a time when Spielberg is going back to the start of his career and making tougher, more uncompromising movies. He gave A Beautiful Mind the same kind of treatment too, transforming an otherwise tough and compelling real-life story a family feel good movie twist. (As a piece of mainstream narrative storytelling, Shine surpasses that film tenfold). What a shame. Cinderella Man 'couldda' and 'shouldda' been a contender'. Give me Fat City any day.