"Cinderella Man" is a brilliant effort on the part of director Ron Howard. It is as simple as that! Howard has taken us back in time to an era of struggle and despair, and portrayed all of that, but also the unrelenting will of a man, and a family, to overcome. In the process, the man, Jim Braddock, a heavyweight fighter in the depression years, becomes the hope of an entire nation. Much as the horse Seabiscuit was a source of relief for millions of Americans, so, too, was Braddock and the dreams of those who followed his epic battle against champion Max Baer can be vividly felt in this movie.
The reality and dramatic flair of the fights scenes in "Cinderella Man" are superior, on par with those of "Raging Bull." Russell Crowe, as Jim Braddock, looks the part and shows legitimate boxing skill. Outside of the ring, Crowe brings a determination that combines with raw integrity and love of family that builds over the course of the film, climaxing in the final fight scene.
"Cinderella Man" allows others to shine as well. Paul Giamatti gives yet another solid and well placed performance as Joe Gould, Braddock's manager. Paddy Considine, who most will remember for a fine effort in "In America," brings a dark picture of how the times destroyed many Americans clearly into focus. He is tragic and sympathetic at once.
One of the best aspects of this film comes in its women. Both Renee Zellweger, as Mae Braddock, and Linda Kash, as Lucille Gould, are strong women who support their husbands, but are powerful individuals in their own right. They do what must be done, but they lead as much as follow.
Ron Howard deserves a great deal of credit for the imagery and honesty of "Cinderella Man." The camera work is gripping. The story comes off as sincere, and we feel lifted into the times as front row visitors to the events taking place. While the movie has the glorious Hollywood finale in place, Howard nonetheless allows the struggle and heartaches of the Great Depression to leave a lasting impression on the film. He shows us human frailty, dreams in conflict with life and the hardness of society, yet also has us believing and applauding courage and hope.
"Cinderella Man" is a timeless story that will touch everyone. It will be viewed over time in the same light as other brilliant boxing films such as "Raging Bull" and "Rocky," not because it is a film about fighting, but because it exhibits the human spirit with fullness and truth.