Flicks in Review

Review: "Cinderella Man" by Jeff Hanni, aka Mr. "Snakewhip" Sable

I saw "Cinderella Man" last night. It's a Ron Howard boxing picture set in the 1930's. I only went because it was free and I like movies with people wearing fedoras. I had never even heard of it before and didn't know what to expect.

It's the story of an Irish American boxer (just what you'd expect from Ron Howard nowadays), Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe), the darling of the ring, the guy who had it all, fame, money and the best darn family ever, including a gorgeous, adoring and supportive wife, Mae (Renée Zellweger). Jim does the smart thing and invests all his money in stocks, his last few bouts go badly as he's fighting with a broken hand and such and he subsequently gets banned by the boxing commission because the 'lack luster' fights aren't entertaining enough for the crowds and that doesn't do the promoters or commission any financial good. Then of course, the market crashes, plunging the world into the Great Depression. There's a painful bit where the filmmakers really delve into why it was called The Great Depression. Great pains are taken to depict the misery of the time... appropriately so. Though we were barraged with it back in school, I'm not sure kids today have much of an idea how bad it was. Soup lines, social assistance, cancellation of essential services, stealing and begging were the order of the day. Braddock can only find the occasional day or two working on the docks and finds it more than difficult supporting his family, even resorting to begging his old friends for money at Madison Square Gardens where he was once such a bigshot. His pal, promoter Joe Gould (the wonderful scene stealing Paul Giamatti), never loses faith in him and gets him what's essentially an exhibition match, which Braddock very surprisingly wins largely due to him having to favor his non-broken hand while working the docks. The crowds go wild that this underdog, this fallen hero who they feel represents the American everyman actually wins something. Gould uses this to get Braddock his boxing license back and he meteorically rises beating all the best boxers, and making some serious coin as he goes, 'til he gets to the imposing and very nasty Max Baer (Craig Bierko), Heavyweight Champion of the World, who's son indeed played Jethro Bodine on the Beverly Hillbillies (never mentioned in the film). Baer is a good a movie villain as they come, having killed two men in the ring and just plain being a scary obnoxious cad, but somehow still elegant despite his brutishness. Everyone's justly afraid for poor Braddock, who may have just gotten lucky this whole time. You know they call it "Cinderella Man" for a reason, it has a happy ending and that's pretty rare for a true story set during the 1930's.

It was clearly made in Toronto (Canadians can play 'spot the TV commercial actor' as they watch. The ringside announcer was played by the guy from "The Red Green Show" and Cheerios commercials, Linda Kash from Second City and the Philly Cheese spread commercials played Gould's wife, and Nicolas Campbell of "Naked Lunch" and "DaVinci's Inquest" fame played Braddock's newspaper advocate "Sporty"). There's even a scene where Braddock's family pulls apart a billboard for a Canadian gasoline company for firewood when their electricity is shut off. An interesting note is Daniel Kash (brother of Linda mentioned above) who appeared in this film also acted in an episode of "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles".

It's a pretty feel-good kind of movie, and though I personally have no interest in boxing whatsoever, the fights were extremely exciting, scary and grueling. You actually felt a bit tired and relieved after each fight scene. Ron Howard was remarkably restrained in the over the top patriotism he's known for, but snuck a bit of it in anyway. The filmmakers did a very good job of representing how very dismal the Great Depression was; it was a far cry from the romanticized, escapist view of the Indiana Jones films. Ironically they spent a LOT of dough to recreate the period. The sets and costumes, and effects were all bang on perfect. ...but the hats were awesome.

I'd have to surprise myself and recommend this film, despite it not being my regular cup of tea. It is a rousing yarn, to be sure and will probably be remembered around Oscar time. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to being immersed in another time, a time where, though everything seems bleak, the good guys can still come out on top. This is a picture you'll want to see on the big screen, not the little one at home.  I'd see it again for the hats alone, but I'm funny that way.