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Cinderella Man

Which One of These Isn't Like All the Others?

Someone in Tinseltown must have made a mistake. They seem to have mis-scheduled the opening date for director Ron Howard's Cinderella Man, a movie clearly meant to open during the holiday season. You know what kind of movie I'm talking about -- the kind that lifts your spirits and shows you that sometimes the good guy actually wins. This movie has lots of autumnal tones, a serious side and even snow. Nothing blows up in it and I'm pretty sure there's not one lick of CGI, so what is it doing in the theaters alongside Disney cartoons and action-packed blockbusters?

Cinderella Man, based on the true tale of boxing champ James J. Braddock, relies on the depth of its characters and its story rather than any fancy special effects. Russell Crowe plays Braddock, a successful boxer who loses all his money during the Depression and is left to live in a drafty basement apartment with his wife Mae (Renée Zellweger) and their three children. He tries getting pick-up work at the docks and fights in the occasional match, but essentially he and his family are starving.

His is the story of hundreds of Americans during that time. When his former manager, Joe Gould (the indelible Paul Giamatti), gets him a gig on the fly after a fighter bows out of a match due to sickness, Braddock's luck seems to change for the better. Through hard work, determination and humility, he gets back into the game and soon finds himself going up against the heavyweight champion of the world, the brutal Max Baer (Craig Bierko), for the title.

If there's one thing Cinderella Man does, it's capturing the utter depression of the Depression. It's hard to image how immeasurably and deeply our country fell apart. Howard's direction and the cinematography of Salvatore Totino bring this era in America, particularly in New York/New Jersey, to life. Crowe and Giamatti are right-on, and have plenty with which to work with a screenplay by Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman that strays from saccharine lines and melodramatic overtones. However, Zellweger's delivery seems forced and her lines scripted. Beware: the fighting scenes are bloody, brutal and very intense.

The most moving scene in the film hits you right in the gut. After Mae is forced to separate the children by sending them off to various family members, Braddock goes to the boxing commission, located in the swanky Madison Square Garden, and literally begs his former colleagues for money. At first, it seems as if you are forced to witness the desperate last-ditch attempt of a broken man. However, on closer inspection, you realize that it took Braddock a great deal of dignity to do what he did, and if you were in the same position, you would have been prompted to do the same.

Crowe and Giamatti's performance in both this scene, and all others in Cinderella Man, is a testament to their talents as actors. If you are looking for a satisfying feel-good yet not cheesy movie this holiday season, Cinderella Man is a good pick. It definitely stands out from all the rest.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5