Cinderella Man

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Movie Review by Toby White

Starring: Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Craig Bierko
Director: Ron Howard

Among the (often) hundreds of people that make up a film crew, there really is only one that can be called the unsung hero. The editor. It takes a canny (not to mention tenacious, patient and diligent) individual, constantly picking through hours of rushes, watching shots and scenes over and over and often picking through sequences frame by frame to get a sequence just right. With such necessary attention to detail it’s very easy to lose objectivity towards a film and so, to maintain pace as well as generate pathos that really works, editing is, truly, an art form. And you get very little credit for it. So why the deifying preamble for a review of CINDERELLA MAN? Because you almost never notice the editing in a film. When it’s bad it’s terrible, when it’s unnoticeable it’s good and when it suddenly dawns on you that the reason a scene (and a film) works, it’s brilliant.

Crowe plays James J Braddock, perhaps the most famous least-known boxer of all time. Okay, okay, just when you thought you didn’t want another boxing movie, there comes CINDERELLA MAN. But CINDERELLA MAN is not a boxing movie. True, it’s about a boxer and it contains boxing but it’s more than that. It’s about depression-era New York and the triumph of the human spirit and spousal support and decency and good fatherhood and bonds of friendship and…oh, yes, a bid for Oscar glory. Sorry, that was a cheap shot. But I had to throw the sarcasm in there for fear of genuinely showing my emotions about this movie.

But this is the set up for a wonderfully absorbing, emotional movie because it subverts every convention of the sports film. Just when you think you know what’s going to happen, the opposite does. And it’s a true story. That’s what makes it all the more remarkable. Braddock is a man of principle, dignity and decency, a sporting sportsman, doting father and superlative husband. Forgive me for going over the top on the praise but you really do wish you had some qualities of the man (at least the one portrayed in the film). He’s established as a boxer of some repute on the pre-depression era circuit but, as you’d expect, is really hit hard post 1929, especially after a string of losses in the ring. What follows is an emotional and often painful story of his and his family’s struggle through the times and perhaps the most extraordinary sporting comeback story not yet told.

Couple of notices though; it is a long film and it does have its smattering of necessary sentimental moments which threaten its slip into mawkishness. Although these two foibles do niggle slightly to be honest I don’t even need to mention them because they are over-shadowed by a genuine and gripping sense of emotion. Simple things, like a reaction shot from a stoic Bruce McGill (as the money-hungry promoter), or a quivering lip from the fantastic Paul Giamatti (as Braddock’s manager), or perfectly timed comedic moment (to avoid the aforementioned over-sentimentality)…these things really do make this mesh together in perfect proportion to make a finely crafted, magnificently executed film. And who does the meshing on a movie? That’s right.

So, if it wins only one, roll on the Oscar for Best Editing to Mike Hill and Dan Hanley.

5 out of 6 stars