Post Independent Staff
Mostly because I just printed out the AFI’s list of the top 100 movie quotes of all time, no coulda, woulda, shoulda about it ” “Cinderella Man” is a contender.
There’s very little doubt director Ron Howard built “Cinderella Man” to stand the test of time ” at least the time between now and the next Academy Awards. Filmmakers carefully calibrated every facet of “Cinderella Man for classic status, from casting Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger and Paul Giamatti to the marketing material’s stately jazz-age Baskerville font. “Cinderella Man” isn’t just a boxing movie ” it’s a boxing movie that happens to be about other important things.
Use boxing to give your political message a little more visceral power, and you can barely throw a haymaker without landing an Oscar nomination. And Howard has more reason to be confident in “Cinderella Man.” Crowe looks like a brawler as Braddock, and his working-class demeanor and Jersey accent never falter as they would with lesser actors. After a star-making turn in “Sideways,” Giamatti’s as good as ” or better than ” ever, back in a supporting role.
Subtlety hasn’t really been a strong suit for the populist Howard, and his desire to wallop viewers over the head with the message makes “Cinderella Man” merely a very good movie instead of the classic it looks like.
But Howard pulls his own strongest punch by sending Braddock on an unnecessary trip to a shantytown in Central Park. After taking painstaking care for about half of the film to show ” not tell ” moviegoers how the violence in the ring freed Braddock from his desperate workdays on the New Jersey docks, Howard then shows his typically hammy fist with Braddock’s reckoning in the “Hooverville.” It’s the movie’s very own currency crisis, exchanging the best juxtaposition in “Cinderella Man” to give death a cheap immediacy and moviegoers flashbacks they don’t really need to realize Braddock is putting his life on the line in the boxing ring. More missing shifts and more of Braddock’s cohorts working themselves to death on the docks, Upton Sinclair-style, would have made the same point far more effectively ” and subtly.
Convention also seems to compel Howard to swathes Braddock lovingly in Irish iconography, evoking “Million Dollar Baby,” “Gangs of New York” or a fire sale from Howard’s own “Far and Away.” But woe to the other ethnicities in the melting pot. At best, the boxers Braddock faces are essentially generic; at worst is the way Craig Bierko comes off playing Max Baer, as a killer clown with kinky hair. Kimberly returned from “Cinderella Man” raving about Bierko’s performance. I was wondering if I had seen a subtly anti-Semitic movie or just got paranoid at the implications of dressing a stock villain with few redeeming characteristics in Star of David boxing trunks.
Come January, those questions probably won’t linger, and we’ll look back on “Cinderella Man” as a legitimate contender and probably an Oscar winner. But I’ll wistfully recall a movie that could have been much more ” a real champion.
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