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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

(Photo by George Kraychyk, ©2005 Universal Studios, all rights reserved.)

photo caption:
DARLING, HAVE FAITH IN ME: Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe, left) embraces his devoted wife Mae (René Zellweger) as he assures her that, even though the future look very bleak, all will be well in the end. end caption.

Cinderella Man: Russell Crowe and Ron Howard Reunite for an Oscar-Quality Bio-Pic

Review by Kam Williams

Hollywood loves an Horatio Alger-style story that chronicles the triumphant struggle of a working-class hero over insurmountable obstacles. If ever there was an underdog with a rags-to-riches tale tailor-made for the movies, it was James J. Braddock (1906-1974).

Born in a modest Manhattan flat on West 48th St., Jim and his six siblings were raised by his Irish immigrant parents across the river in New Jersey. After dropping out of high school to pursue a career as a boxer, he spent the twenties in a series of odd jobs: as an errand boy, a printer's apprentice, a stevedore on the docks, etcetera; while working his way up as a contender in the light heavyweight division.

By 1929, after piling up an impressive record in over 40 professional bouts, and despite a chronic injury to his right hand, he landed a title fight. However, worse for his fate than his loss to the champion Tommy Loughran, was the stock market crash later that year, which plunged the country into the Great Depression.

Wiped out financially, and with a wife and three kids to support, Jim's boxing career took a back seat to the family's desperate struggle for survival. Soon, like many of his fellow Americans, Braddock found himself standing in soup and unemployment lines, and accepting public relief to subsist.

However, his plight became public and a source of shame, when his being on welfare was reported in the local tabloids. Somehow summoning up a combination of grace, courage, and confidence in the face of humiliation, Braddock chose to train again, this time as a heavyweight.

Luck was with him in the second phase of his career, and it is his rise from the ashes which is the subject of Cinderella Man, based on the Jeremy Schaap best seller of the same name. The bio-pic is directed by Ron Howard and stars Russell Crowe, the same pair who collaborated successfully in A Beautiful Mind, the Academy Award-winning Best Picture of 2002 about the Princeton University mathematician John Nash.

Crowe adopts a period 'Noo Yawk' accent, a tough guy attitude, and undergoes a physical transformation to look remarkably like Braddock. Renée Zellweger is impressive as Mae, his spouse. She is worried about the upcoming match with Max Baer (Craig Bierko), the reigning champion with fists of stone, who had previously pummeled two opponents to death inside the ring.

Since Braddock was still on welfare, he was easily persuaded by his manager Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) to agree to a series of bouts against more seasoned opponents. Beating the odds again and again in a series of surprising upsets, he was dubbed Cinderella Man by the sportswriter Damon Runyon.

Braddock's big day was June 13, 1935 at the Madison Square Garden Bowl in Long Island City. Would he emerge victorious from his fight with Baer, or would this be the night when the Cinderella story ends?

Although the movie could be described as a cross between Seabiscuit (because of the Depression) and Rocky (because of the sport), Howard has created a fine enough film to stand on its own, even if the production falls short of either of the above films in terms of its emotional punch.

What makes this picture unique and memorable is that it portrays James Braddock as a desperate man whose return to the ring was driven by the necessity to provide for his family rather than by a narcissistic desire for fame. As a consequence he inspired many of his fans, who, like Braddock, were unable to find employment at a difficult time in American history.

Excellent (3 and 1/2 stars). Rating: PG-13 for profanity and violence. Running time: 144 minutes. Studio: Universal Pictures.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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