Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cinderella Man - Movie Review

Watched 'Cinderella Man', a movie based on the real life story of James Braddock, a boxer from New Jersey, and his rags to riches story. James Braddock (Russel Crowe) gives up his boxing career as a light heavyweight boxer after breaking his hand in a fight. He is decommissioned by the authorities and the people who fix fights for him for the lame performance. This brings enormous relief to his wife Mae (Renee Zellweger) who wants him to give up boxing. (I can never understand why women want men to give up all the things they love.)

Anyway Braddock, who also has three young kids, falls in difficult times and starts working on the docks. Now this is 1933 in the USA, the period of the great depression, and Braddock does not get work on all days at the docks. When he does get work he has to hide his lack of efficiency because of his broken hand, but he is covered by his other workers. Braddock's family goes down to the wire, with power cut off, nothing to eat and his son stealing meat from the butcher. Braddock takes the son back with the meat to the butcher, makes him apologise and on the way back home tells him he will take care of them. Unfortunately Mae thinks the children are better off with her relatives until they get some money, which Braddock does not like. He gets some money by standing in a queue for the unemployed federal assistance and when he is still short of money to pay for the power bills, goes out to the club where his old boxing mates and agents hang out and begs them for 20 dollars to pay his bills. They hand out some money - whatever he is short is made good by his ex-agent Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) who is also in the club. It is human drama at its best - the fallen warrior begging on his knees and Crowe is wonderful in that scene. Braddock gets his children back home.

It is after that low phase that his luck turns. He is offered a one-off fight against a heavyweight contender whose opponent has dropped off for 250 dollars by his agent Gould. Braddock is grateful for the chance despite his lack of training. When he goes for the fight Gould realises that Braddock's stomach is empty and gives him some hash browns to eat. Braddock surprises everyone by beating the contender in a third rounf knockout when he was actually supposed to be the punching bag. And then Gould, an astute manager, gets him another fight and another, and Braddock wins them all, attributing his strength to the work he did in the docks. Braddock now starts representing the spirit of all those who were down in the depression and he is a source of inspiration to many. He is finally set up as the number one contender against Max Baer a brutal boxer who killed two men in the ring (actually he is supposed to have killed only one!). The fight organiser asks Braddock and Gould to see how Baer killed his opponent before they accept the fight in the presence of his lawyer. They accept. Braddock is expected to lose in the first round, the odds are 10:1 against him winning the championship fight. Before the fight Mae goes to pray for Braddock in the church and finds a full church - all praying for Braddock's win. The silence in the full house as Braddock steps out to the ring, the cheer he gets when the announcer introduces him clearly shows whose side the crowd is on.

The last fight is shown really well and got me completely involved. It goes some 12 rounds. All the boxing matches were really convincing and much credit to Crowe for that. Crowe did a brilliant job as the ageing, never-say-die Braddock, the family man, who hangs on in the ring despite broken hands broken ribs and what not. Paul Giamattis is brilliant as Joe Gould and is so convincing that you can feel him oozing off the screen. Renee Zellweger is good since she got under my skin with her nagging. Joe Louis apparently called Braddock the most courageous fighter he ever fought. Titled as the 'Cinderella Man' for his rise form rags to riches the story of Braddock is another instance where I find how truth is stranger than fiction. I loved the movie though for those who are squeamish about blood and gore and violence, to the extent one can expect in a boxing match, it may be a tad too much. Otherwise as a classic human drama, one of the best. It got my voice choking, my blood pumping and all those emotions I love to experience in human/sports drama movies!

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