Cinderella Man (12a)
Dir. Ron Howard
Reviewed by Matt Adcock
Once upon a time, there was a boxing contender called Cinderella (although his actual name was Jim Braddock and is played here by Russell ‘I am Gladiator’ Crowe). Cinderella led a breadline life and was forced by his evil stepmother to fight all the time, even when injured. Because of this he lost pretty much everything he had, except the love of his faithful wife Mae (Renee Zellweger) and his wholesome children. Times certainly were hard but then one day his fairy godmother / boxing promoter Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) got him a second shot at his boxing dream and if you don’t know how the story ends then I won’t spoil it for you.
This hard hitting fairy tale is actually based on a true story and director Ron Howard plays it all very safe – never risking anything too original whilst heaping the sentimentality on by the bucket load. Cinderella Man however comes out punching well above its weight in quality, so if you’re looking for a dose of good old-fashioned storytelling liberally peppered with crunching boxing bouts then you’ve come to the right place. There’s something for everyone here, with romance, family drama and of course pugilistic smackdowns vying for position in a plot that might seem far-fetched if were not based in fact.
Crowe delivers a staggering performance, a perfect blend of muscular nobility balanced with a heart-warming, genuine feeling and gritty determination to protect his family from the soul-destroying hardship of the 1930’s depression. And just because boxing films are no strangers to ‘remarkable career revival’ storylines, don’t count Cinderella Man out because it still manages to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Especially when it gets to the obligatory last-reel showdown between underdog hero Braddock and evil incarnate champion Max Baer (a deliciously slimy and menacing Craig Bierko).
Crowe could well pick up an Oscar for his performance here and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Giamatti up there with him for his supporting role – they bounce off each other with excellent chemistry that really lifts the film whenever they share screen time. Zellweger on the other hand struggles to convince and over use of her ‘screw my face up to try and convey emotion’ ploy starts to grate really fast. But having said that, there really aren’t many things to knock in this mature, quality movie that shows Howard in fine form as he turns his directing skills towards the big screen adaptation of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ next.
Darkmatt Rating: ööö (uppercut to the frontal lobe)