| The Red Right Hand
1935. The depression in America has come to a peak; families huddle close together in slums, every day men head to factories and dock areas in search of shift work, people are camping out in Central Park after being evicted by the law, some travel miles across the country in search of work. The situation is generally pretty horrific. In the midst of all this one ageing boxer, James Braddock [Crowe] gets a second chance - a last goodbye fight that could possibly help his family keep their heads above the rising tide of poverty and death a little longer.
This is the setting for 'Cinderella Man.' If you've seen that episode of The Simpsons with Ron Howard, you'll pretty much know the score with his films. They're deeply moving pictures that tug on your heartstrings - sometimes I fear that's all Howard can do, but we'll save that for another time. Luckily Howard managed to pull this one off rather well. The film opens in 1929, Madison Square Garden, Braddock's just had a superb fight and is crowned Light Heavyweight champion for a second time, there's seemingly no limit to the wealth and success of this man - decent boxer, good family, attractive wife, nice house, etc. Then we are shown a panning shot of Braddock's room from the reflection in the mirror, full circle, back to the reflection and a small cue-title appears:
4 years into the great depression
Braddock is no longer in his house, no longer the winning champion we were introduced to and his family have been forced to live in a tight little basement apartment. We follow the hardships of the failed boxing champ, trying to get work - like so many of that era, it was pure luck if you were chosen or not. When the bills become too much, Mae Braddock [Zellweger] is forced to send their three children away to stay with relatives, as they can no longer afford heat or electricity. Braddock, succumb with anxiety, fear and shame signs on for welfare then takes a ferry over to New York and proceeds to literally beg for help from the boxing commission that deemed him unfit to fight. After making the rounds he heads on home and retrieves his children.
Joe Gould [Giamatti], Braddock's old manager pulls some strings and manages to get Braddock one last fight. Seeing how painfully Braddock has fought we don't really hold much hope - but being a Howard film you should know better than that. Fight night comes round and everyone is expecting Braddock to go down in the first round. Then something awe inspiring happens; the man who half of the crowd didn't know or recognise started fighting back and winning.
This film accounts the rise, fall and rise of not only a great boxer, but an inspiration to millions during the depression, showing countless hard-done-by Americans that there is hope and even a star can fall and an average man can rise to glory. See that? See what I just wrote? That's what Howard DOES TO YOU!! Damn him! I have to hand it to his directing, as cheesy as it may seem, he has a gift. In almost every film he's made, he's managed to get you rooting for the hero/heroine in your seat and it's no different here, you can't help but softly jab at the air as Crowe throws punch after punch. The only downside would be the somewhat slow-paced start and the music. I just didn't feel that Thomas Newman's offering was matching the performances, that's not to say the score didn't compliment the scenes (because it did) it was just far too forgettable, it was no Rocky fanfare.
9th September 2005
The Scene To Look Out For:
Braddock's big come back fight. There's a moment when Braddock is wearing the clothes he's borrowed -seeing as he has sold his own- and he's standing in the ring, no one really rooting for him, most not even knowing who he is, but he just passes his gaze over the crowd and smiles to himself then unleashes this amazing attack on his opponent that kicks off his climb to the top.
Joe Gould. Now we all know how I feel about Giamatti, he's an under-rated comic and acting genius, and this part shows no exception. He pulls off the boxing manager/promoter act perfectly and even manages to raise Crowe's performance, enhancing every scene. Truly worthy of Burgess Meredith.
"Maybe I understand, some, about having to fight. So you just remember who you are... you're the Bulldog of Bergen, and the Pride of New Jersey, you're everybody's hope, and the kid's hero, and you are the champion of my heart, James J. Braddock"
In A Few Words:
Not the best boxing film. Not the best great depression film. But possibly Ron Howard's best film [bar A Beautiful Mind]