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Cinderella Man - Review

Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti in Cinderella Man

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted Scenes; Ron Howard Intros; Ringside Seats.

BOXING movies, by virtue of the very sport they represent, can be a hard sell to audiences even though the genre has delivered some true knockouts in its time.

The original Rocky, for instance, became an Oscar-winner, as did Clint Eastwood’s recent Million Dollar Baby, and Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.

Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man emerges as no-less a heavyweight, featuring another staggering performance from Russell Crowe and a deft blend of bone-crunching action and heart-breaking social melodrama.

It is the true story of ‘forgotten’ boxing hero, James J. Braddock, a Depression-era boxer who was dubbed ‘the cinderella man’ by the media for the way in which he fought back from obscurity to land an unlikely world title shot.

The movie picks up in 1928, as New Jersey’s brightest hope, Braddock (Crowe), looks poised to realise his boxing potential, before cleverly (in the space of one scene) leaping forward to 1933, when he is barely able to find employment as a dock worker to feed his wife (Renee Zellweger) and three children.

Braddock is given an unlikely shot at redemption, however, by his close friend and former manager (Paul Giamatti), who offers him a one-time opportunity to ‘say farewell’ by stepping in at the last minute to fight John ‘Corn’ Griffin at Madison Square Garden, in a bout described as one of the worst mis-matches of all time.

Braddock won the fight, however, and continued to defy the odds, winning fight after fight and eventually landing a second title shot against the revered heavyweight champion, Max Baer, a fighter renowned for having killed two men in the ring.

The subsequent bout saw the peoples’ underdog, Braddock, put his life and the hopes of a nation on the line for the chance to provide a secure future for his family.

Howard’s movie, while shamelessly sentimental, wears its heart on its sleeve so openly that audiences shouldn’t mind being manipulated.

It’s intended to honour the memory of a hero and does so in more ways than one – portraying Braddock as a decent man whose triumphs weren’t just confined to the ring.

True, the style of the film does prompt instant comparisons with the likes of Seabiscuit (another Depression-based sporting drama) and Angela’s Ashes, not to mention countless boxing dramas, but Howard’s direction is such that you’ll be breathless with excitement come the final fight.

What’s more, you’ll have genuinely come to care for the characters, feeling every blow as Braddock takes it on the chin on numerous occasions.

Crowe is nothing short of terrific in the lead role, having devoted himself to recapturing Braddock’s style and mannerisms (both facial and physical). It is a performance of such passionate integrity that there can be little doubt he is one of the leading actors of his generation (even if his voice sometimes resembles a certain Rocky Balboa’s a little too closely).

Yet he is surrounded by a quality cast, with Giamatti as impressive as ever as Braddock’s fast-talking manager, and the likes of Bruce McGill and Paddy Considine all registering strongly in minor roles.

The boxing, too, is frighteningly authentic and as close to being in the ring as audiences are likely to get. The final fight, in particular, is agonisingly intense.

But then it says much about the memory of Braddock that very few will probably be aware of the outcome (a historic oversight that works to the movie’s advantage).

Come the final bell, however, Howard’s Cinderella Man should ensure that Braddock’s fairytale legend is never overlooked again.

It’s a powerful tale that carries genuine emotional clout.

Certificate: 12A