Saturday, July 09, 2005

Cinderella Man

James Braddock walks into a lounge where a few of his old boxing cohorts are either busy making deals or are merely relaxing from the boredom of boxing inactivity brought about by the Great Depression. Wearing the face of a man hungry from days of deprivation and dressed in tattered, two-day old clothes, Braddock summons all his courage and swallows all his pride as he asks these men for a few loose change to add to the emergency relief he received from the City.

His eyes welling and his face full of shame, he walks into the middle of the parlor and begs for help. He puts down his cap, takes it out upside down and he starts going around. The men start reaching into their pockets and drops into Braddock’s hat, pennies, dimes, and a few dollar bills.

Of the many memorable scenes in “Cinderella Man”, this one stands out for sheer poignancy.

This particular scene comes about a third into the movie and just for this alone, the price of admission is already considered earned and Russell Crowe, the actor, has proven that surely he is the best actor of his generation. Hardworking and notorious for his temper, Crowe has the gift most actors work their lifetime and yet can’t master but yet in Crowe, it comes off as naturally as breathing and as powerful as the punches he pulls when he becomes James Braddock.

Director Ron Howard has fashioned an underdog fighter formula into one rousing, engaging, touching and inspiring film.

Based on the astonishing true story of the fighter James Braddock who, during the Great Depression, lived with his wife and children in dire, below poverty conditions, yet through sheer determination and willful pursuit of changing his luck managed to turn the fates and became the biggest boxing champion of the era and inspired millions of Americans to have faith in themselves once more.

Among the sterling supporting cast, Renee Zellwegger, who plays Braddock’s wife and the equally-gifted character actor, Paul Giammatti give the most memorable turns. Craig Bierko, who appears late in the movie as the boxer Max Baer, also turns in a menacing performance as Braddock’s final opponent.

During the film’s tense climax, a small interspersed scene, set in a closet, helped underscore the biggest triumph of Braddock’s career. In that scene, the three Braddock children are found hiding and clustering in front of a radio and listening to their father’s fight. A triumph illustrated by the fact that in the heralded scenes of this review, the primary reason why Braddock set all his pride on the side was to able to provide a home for his children, during a harsh winter, with basic gas and electricity, which was cutoff earlier and the children had to be sent away to relatives for their safety.

Braddock's story underscores another telling point: when one man's courage is driven by his love for his family, he can muster all his strength to fight for his own space and deliver the promise to his family. This is the first masterpiece of the year!

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