There is a great boxing story about a miracle heavyweight champion who brought hope to a nation filled with hopelessness. His passion and will to win allowed for many people to find the will to survive the darkest hours of the Great Depression. His name was James Braddock, and this is his story.
James Braddock (Russell Crowe) is probably not a name a lot of people are familiar with, and for most of his less-than-illustrious career people just knew Braddock as a washed-up boxer. Braddock's manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti), had given up trying to get Braddock back in the ring until a heavyweight bout fell through and a contender needed an opponent to fill an already cluttered card.
Braddock saw the opportunity to turn his bad luck around and finally pull up his family's spirits. Braddock's wife, Mae (Renee Zellweger), was very reluctant to have her husband take up boxing again to put food on the table. But for Braddock, this was his last best chance to shine one more immortal time.
Cinderella Man is basically what the title constitutes it to be. There are no shocks, dismays, twists, or turns here. It's just basically a rah-rah story about an unlikely underdog who has one more shot at greatness. Basically, it's Rocky 8, set in the 1930s.
What probably makes the film engaging is the strong performances from both Zellweger and Giamatti. I liked that the film showed the impact of boxing on Braddock's wife as well as on Braddock himself. There was some of the support angle in the Rocky series, but Zellweger is just so good here. Giamatti is always an amazing talent to watch, and his role as the manager and agent allows him to dance circles around Crowe's slobbering, daunting, and shallow hero.
The set design, direction, and feel of the film was all top-notch. I did really love how the film subtly shows how the Braddock family drifted into the Great Depression. It's an amazing transformation. Another thing I really enjoyed was the performance of the maniacal champion Max Baer, played by Craig Bierko. This is probably Bierko's best performance to date.
I really did feel that Cinderella Man was nothing more than another boxing film with an all-star cast. But it's the performances that make the film worth seeing. Sure, there is plenty of déjà vu in this film, but sometimes you just need an underdog to cheer for. (3.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.