Depression, they call it, but if it happened now we'd remember
it as the Awesome Depression. So it's no wonder that directors
love to base their movies in the depression. You get credit
for being historic and dramatic, and it's probably pretty cheap
to cover everyone in shit and make them look sad and old fashioned.
Cheaper than space ships or car chases, that's for sure.
is a depression-era boxing story that wrings its setting for
all its worth. Like a whiskey-laced dishrag at an AA meeting.
This thing yanks at your heartstrings and plays up the starvation
and squalor for all its worth. And damned if it doesn't do a
pretty good job of it.
Normally this old-timey
crap has as much appeal for me as going to one of those fake
country stores that smell like potpourri and sell lumpy patriotic
sweaters. But I read where Cinderella Man was about Jm
J Bullock getting the shit beat out of him. I'd happily pay
to see that jackass get what's coming to him for all the grief
he caused Ted Knight.
But like the time
I set my face on fire lighting a Duraflame log, I read wrong.
The movie is not about Jm J. Bullock, but Jim J. Braddock, who
never played a flamboyant gay character on a crappy 80s sitcom.
He was a real-life boxer in the 1930s whose best skill was his
ability to get beaten to a bloody pulp and not fall down. It's
an enviable skill, really. I can't tell you the number of times
I have had the shit beat out of me and crumpled like a paper
bag. It would be awesome to be able to stand there and take
some more. Boy, would that make those teenagers mad.
This is one of those
prestige pictures, loaded with superstar actors and directed
by Ron Howard, who can bury everything he touches in fake sincerity
and melodramatic horseshit. Russell Crowe plays Braddock, Rene
Zellweger plays the dedicated wife, and Paul Giamatti is the
fight promoter with a heart of gold. I would guess that role
was originally a whore with a heart of gold, but then the filmmakers
realized nobody wanted to see Giamatti naked.
Man, Crowe is a family man who sees boxing as his way to
pull himself up by the bootstraps. Bootstrapping appears to
be the main occupation of people during the Depression. At least,
it's the only thing Hollywood ever tells us about. I'd love
to see a movie about guys yanking themselves down into the much
by their underwear. Jockstrapping, I believe it's called. Or
So, Crowe is so often
injured in fights that his once upwardly-mobile career comes
to a grinding halt due to injuries. His license to fight is
revoked and he can't get a fight or a paycheck. His family,
three kids plus Zellweger, live in rustic squalor, sharing beds
and coughing from the cold, mixing water into milk to make it
last. He picks up work wherever he can, but the heat is shut
off and there is no food in the pantry.
Through a stroke
of luck, Crowe is offered a last fight with a big paycheck.
He's told it will not lead to a comeback, it's a one-shot deal
against a contender he has no hope of beating. So, of course,
he wins. And rather than it being the last fight, it makes him
an underdog hero to the downtrodden of the depression. He gets
another chance, and then another, right up until he gets to
fight for the title against the killer Max Baer (Craig Bierko).
Much is made of the fact that Baer killed two men in the ring
and generally acted like a jackass.
There are two ways
a movie like this ends: first is for the underdog to win, and
not just win for himself, but to win for every oppressed person
in the world, aka the Mighty Ducks Syndrome; second is for the
underdog to lose, but to put up such a fight that he inspires
losers everywhere, aka the Bad News Bear/Rocky Syndrome. Cinderella
Man is the former kind, where Crowe stands up to the maniacal,
dirty cheat opponent and wins, and churches filled with priests
listening by radio throw up their arms and know it's exactly
what Jesus would have wanted.
I'm not sure if there
is a third way these sports movies can end, but if there is,
I hope it has something to do with glue sniffing, falling down
a flight of stairs and still being adored by the masses. That's
the ending some of us need to have hope in our lives.
I'm having a pretty
damn hard time figuring out why this movie worked as well as
it did. It's pure formula, it;s long and self-important. It's
a boxing movie, but made for women. Crowe's character is portrayed
as such an impossible underdog that I'm surprised they didn't
give him polio or a peg leg, or, better yet, no arms. Now that
would be one hell of an uplifting movie; the story of an armless
man who, against all odds, bit his way to a world title.
Crowe is very good.
He's not armless, which would have guaranteed an Oscar, and
his role is too saintly to fully believe, but the guy is just
a damn good actor. Zellweger doesn't have a lot to do, but at
least she doesn't die and the marriage is portrayed as strong
and unified. The ultimatum not to fight anymore comes late in
the movie and is half-hearted, and that's a welcome change.
When the kids get sick, they also get better, which is a nice
turn away from the afflicted or dead child that turns up in
Hollywood as often as in Sudan.
The bad guys are
the fat cats who ride around in fancy cars during the depression,
and the good guys are the dirty-faced bums. It's corny, for
sure, but movie portrays gets away with it. Maybe it's that
the Howard really believes in these outsized characters, or
that I wanted to believe that my life has been rendered asunder
by some unseen and incredibly wealthy force.
The fight scenes
are a bit soft and girly, but still really well done. Despite
the sepia-tone and romanticizing, they really are visceral,
and there are plenty of them. It sort of reminded me how much
I like to watch other people fight for a change, people who
don't resort to slapping and hair-pulling.
The movie's pacing
is hit and miss. It moves along quickly at first, then slows
to a crawl as Crowe is turned away from boxing and has to entangle
himself in irrelevant side stories meant to drive home how great
a guy he is. It picks up again at the end, when Crowe and Bierko
fight. Holy shit, it's a long fight, like maybe the last 30
minutes of the movie. and when Crowe wins, it neatly wraps up
all the loose sends.
Now, some of you
may complaint that I've given away the ending. Too fucking bad
bad. It's a matter of history, and before you write to piss
and mona, here's another spoiler: the Nazis lost World War II.
Here's one more: we lose World War III. To Nazis.