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June 06, 2005 - Image 10

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Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2005-06-06

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10 - The Michigan Daily - Monday, June 6, 2005
'Cinderella Man' fits like
a glass slipper for Crowe

By Jeffrey Bloomer
Daily Arts Editor
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about
"Cinderella Man," Ron Howard's crisp and
gorgeously performed
boxing biopic, is that its
source material - the Cinderella
life of Jim Braddock, an Man
underdog prizefighter and At the Showcase
family man who became a and Quality 16
folk hero during the Great
Depression - has never Universal
been made into a movie
before. While his triumphant story is remark-
able enough in its own right, the truly uncom-
mon thing about Braddock was his mundane
simplicity as a character; rarely has there
been such a revered historical figure that was
really just an average, all-around decent guy
trying to get a break.
But maybe it isn't so surprising after all:
Braddock's story, fact-based though it may
be, seems specifically tailored for post-Sept.
11th Hollywood, in which tales of red-blood-
ed, everyman American heroism are easy
sells. The film offers an expedited version
of Braddock's (Russell Crowe, "Master and
Commander: The Far Side of the World")
midlife years, opening as a chronic hand
injury casts him out of boxing in the years
directly before the Depression. As hard times
hit, he struggles to keep his wife (Rende Zell-
weger, "Cold Mountain") and children afloat
until his former manager (Paul Giamatti,
"Sideways") finally finds a way to bring him
back into the ring.
Indeed, the story sounds like the stuff

of Oscar dreams for distributor Universal
(who also scored with Howard's "A Beauti-
ful Mind"), but the only real buzz the movie
will likely retain at year's end is that for
its lead performance. As the title character,
Crowe, the frankly stated Aussie import with
a hugely successful (but curiously under-
populated) resume, has delivered yet another
assured and affecting performance that reso-
nates with uncontrived sentimentality. To
be sure, the spectacular supporting players
- most notably Zellweger and Giamatti but
also Craig Bierko ("The Thirteenth Floor")
as Braddock's blisteringly malevolent oppo-
nent - are nothing short of fantastic. But
"Cinderella Man" is, by all accounts, entirely
Crowe's movie.
For his part, Howard provides the film
with his typically solid direction, but now,
more than ever, his limitations as a filmmak-
er are clear. With his patient and intelligent
craft, the stalwart director almost systemati-
cally refuses to take risks; there's scarcely
a moment in any of his films that's a true
surprise because he so painstakingly follows
classical narrative templates.
Howard's secret to success is simple: his
stories. If he has a good yarn on his hands
("Apollo 13"), his films can truly soar, but
without a workable backbone, they awkward-
ly stumble their way to conclusion ("EDty").
"Cinderella Man" is among his most com-
pelling movies precisely because it has such
a rousing story behind it - but its success
almost seems undeserved, because it is,
above all, an archetypal formula picture.
Then there's the climax, which shameless-
ly juxtaposes dewy-eyed shots of a Catholic
Church praying for Braddock with a rather
unsubtle focus on the Star of David sported

"In this life or the next, I will have another Oscar."
on his opponent's pre-fight robes. The movie tle to debunk the disquieting sentiment that
is based on fact, so Howard is off the hook plagues almost all American period pieces:
and likely meant no offense. But as much as That the stories are really only for a certain
the film is grand entertainment, it does lit- kind of American.

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