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Cinderella Man

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Cinderella Man

Director: Ron Howard
Runtime: 144 minutes
Cast: Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, Paul Giamatti
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Cinderella Man

Director: Ron Howard
Runtime: 144 minutes
Cast: Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, Paul Giamatti

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Perhaps more than any other occupation or sport, boxing has become the subject of great films: Raging Bull, Body And Soul, The Set-Up, Fat City, and Million Dollar Baby, just to name a few highlights. The troubled lead characters in each of these films find that their actions in the ring are a simple, powerful expression of a deeper existential turmoil, inner conflict manifested in horrifying brutality. Ron Howard's Cinderella Man, a superficially rousing portrait of Depression-era legend James J. Braddock, gets the formula completely backward: Braddock appears to be a man with no inner demons, so the ring contains the emotional baggage of an entire nation. Comparisons to Seabiscuit are unavoidable, because Braddock represents so much more than any one man could possibly embody, and even his mighty frame can't bear all that extra weight on the saddle. The effective opening finds Russell Crowe's Braddock in his prime, dismantling another light-heavyweight contender at Madison Square Garden and taking the prize money home to his wife (Renée Zellweger) and three kids in a spacious two-story in suburban New Jersey. Cut to three years later, as the Great Crash and a broken right hand have deposited Braddock and his family in a dingy tenement house, where the kids sleep head-to-toe in one bed and mom waters down the milk to extend its shelf life. After Braddock's pitiful showings lead to the revocation of his boxing license, the blue-collar Irishman picks up whatever work he can find on the docks, but it isn't enough to keep the electricity running. Just as he reaches a low ebb, Braddock gets a second chance when his faithful manager Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) arranges a last-minute fight at the Garden against heavyweight challenger Corn Griffin, and Braddock comes away an improbable victor. From there, he eventually takes on champion Max Baer, an imposing bruiser notorious for killing two people with his thunderous hook.Many consider Braddock's epic bout against Baer to be the greatest underdog story in boxing history, and that reliable craftsman Howard plays it right down the middle. He tries to evoke the Depression's desperation and grime, but his exteriors are awash in nostalgic hues, and the interior of Braddock's apartment looks like the set to a high-school play, with nothing close to the wrenching authenticity of Steven Soderbergh's lower-budgeted King Of The Hill. Lacking a more specific sense of time and place, Cinderella Man leans heavily on the technically proficient Crowe to slip into Braddock's skin, but he can only do so much with a character who's ready to be mounted in bronze over Central Park. He's an easy man to root for, but his psyche remains as impenetrable as his ribcage.

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