"Cinderella Man" is a lightweight

June 14, 2005, midnight | By Nora Boedecker | 19 years, 1 month ago

Boxing film falls short

To make a truly great, inspirational and poignant film is an art. Such films are not manufactured, they are born, and when filmmakers try too hard to manufacture a great film-it shows.

And it showed with "Cinderella Man."

On the surface, the story of famous boxer James J. Braddock seems ripe with opportunities for a truly great film. During the Great Depression, a time when America was at it most miserable, Braddock's rags-to-riches tale seemed a beacon of hope in an otherwise dark time. He fought to keep his family off the streets, but, in the end, he seemed to be fighting for a whole country.

Sounds like a perfect plot for a great film, right? Add a few teary moments, uplifting music and corny lines and you've got yourself a surefire hit.

Unless, that is, you go overboard, as director Ron Howard most certainly did. Too many teary moments and meaningful flashbacks and the audience begins to see the strings behind the puppet show. The magic is gone, and all that is left is how pathetically hard Howard is trying to make you cry.That aside, the film is certainly not terrible. Russell Crowe, who plays Braddock, is probably the best actor in Hollywood, and his performance is completely without fault. He is real and sympathetic, and seems to be tidily lining himself up another Oscar nomination, which he most sincerely deserves.

Fellow Oscar-winner Renée Zellweger's performance is not as spectacular, and it seems she was miscast as Braddock's wife, Mae. She is too annoying and weepy and seems out of place in this depression era film. However, she does manage to pull some of the scenes off and it is certainly to her credit that she could say some of her lines with a straight face. In addition, her chemistry with Crowe is, surprisingly, very believable, but her frustrating habit of pursing her lips in odds ways to show various emotions gets very old, very fast.

Another aspect of this film which deserves praise is the cinematography, by Salvatore Totino, which is the most noticeable during the many boxing scenes. There are many ways this can be shown, but Totino's quick shots, that do not always show the punches or the fight itself, add to the suspense and drama of the film. Though, the fights, though dramatic, often seemed to drag on for far too long and often lost the interest of the viewers.

Interestingly enough, one of the supporting actresses in the film is actually James J. Braddock's granddaughter. Rosemarie DeWitt plays Sara Wilson, a neighbor and friend of the Braddocks. DeWitt's performance is powerful, and it's clear that she was not cast based on her relation to Braddock alone.

Overall, "Cinderella Man" is not a waste of time. It is, at points, uplifting, and Crowe's performance is, without a doubt, worth the price of admission. The film may not be appropriate for children, however, and the fight scenes are often gruesome and suspenseful, and the sound effects (such as breaking bones and cracking ribs) are even a little much for more mature audiences. It's an interesting story, which certainly had the potential to be a truly inspiring film. However, the film walks the fine line between powerful and sappy, and crosses that line far too often.

"Cinderella Man" runs 144 minutes and is rated PG-13 for intense boxing violence and some language.

Last updated: May 4, 2021, 12:38 p.m.

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