Directed by Ron Howard, starring Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, Paddy Considine, Paul Giamatti, Craig Bierko, Bruce McGill, Ariel Waller, Connor Price, Patrick Louis, Rosemarie DeWitt, Linda Kash and Nicholas Campbell.
There's nothing quite like a boxing story to ignite feelings of passion, determination and empathy in its audience. Everyone recognises a struggle and the lengths someone will go to just to be on top of their game, for however long. Somehow boxers, more so than any other sportspeople, seem to give off an impression of representing the everyman – we become so taken by their efforts that their struggles become ours as we will them on. This was the case for legendary boxer James J Braddock.
Given a true underdog story that must surely be easy material to work with, director Ron Howard ensures that 'Cinderella Man' is utterly compelling viewing, assisted in no small part by the talented ensemble of actors that bring the real-life characters of this story to the big screen.
James J Braddock (Crowe), popularly known as Jimmy, was an extraordinary man – a giant among peers. Born to Irish parents in New Jersey, he begins his journey here as an ordinary man - a good father to Jay (Price), Howard (Louis) and Rosie (Waller), a solid provider and a loving husband to Mae (Zellweger).
Trying to carve out a living by working the boxing circuit in New Jersey, fighter Braddock has a pretty impressive record in his weight division by the time the Depression of the 1930s hits, changing everything in his life. Painting the bleakest picture of the years ahead and the troubles faced by his family, the film delves into the core of the man that was James J Braddock, the hardships he lived through and the spurs that drove him to always strive to go one better.
Struggling to provide for his family after his boxing licence is revoked, Jimmy works the docks, begs from his former boxing cronies and even accepts state help, against his own principles, as his life hits rock bottom. But with his heart still drawn to the ring, his dedicated manager Joe (Giamatti) is determined that he should be allowed to return to the place where Braddock has always felt at home. That shot arrives in the form of a bout with world champion Max Baer (Bierko), the most notorious fighter on the scene at the time – renowned mostly for the number of men who died at his hands.
The fact that this is yet another story of a downtrodden nobody triumphing over the odds in an already saturated market becomes irrelevant. 'Cinderella Man' is so much more than your average hero tale. Crowe brings the true humanity of Braddock to life once again, delving expertly into his mindset, both in the home and in the ring. He is supported by worthy female lead Renée Zellweger, who perfectly captures the heartbreak of his wife, who refuses to watch his bouts because she says she can feel the blows too. Paul Giamatti also turns in an energetic, and near faultless, performance as a friend who will do anything for the man he has an instinct about, really getting into the grove as the tunnel-visioned boxing manager.
Stylishly shot in a manner that portrays the utter bleakness of the Depression era to the maximum, 'Cinderella Man' wonderfully juxtaposes the hopelessness of the poverty-stricken situation that the people of New Jersey find themselves in with the surge of hope that Braddock inspires in his friends and neighbours, all of whom believe that he is fighting for their causes. The fight scenes, that are dispersed throughout the film, are very effectively shot, but cleverly do not become the focus of the film. 'Cinderella Man' is first and foremost about a man – and that is the strength of the movie. The fact that he is a boxer who undergoes a tremendous rise to fame drives his personal story, but the heart and mind of an individual called James J Braddock, as realistically captured by Crowe, are what make this film great.
Probably one of the best films of the year, 'Cinderella Man's ability to capture the gritty reality of one man's struggles, of the mind and body, makes it a true contender in the movie world.