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Picks and Pans Review: Cinderella Man

updated 06/13/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/13/2005 01:00AM

Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Craig Bierko
BIOPIC
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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This true tale of tenacious boxer James J. Braddock is an old-fashioned movie in the best sense of the phrase, and not just because it's set back in the 1930s. It's smartly written, silkenly made and superbly acted, just what one would expect from the talented trio (director Ron Howard, coscreenwriter Akiva Goldsman and star Crowe) that put together A Beautiful Mind.

Essentially, Cinderella is Seabiscuit with humans. It's the Great Depression and millions of folk, including has-been Braddock (Crowe), are out of work and suffering. Desperate to feed his family, he signs on for one last fight against a high ranked opponent. He wins and keeps on winning, inspiring a nation. A working man like themselves, he becomes the hope of the downtrodden. "I know what I'm fighting for," Braddock says simply. "Milk."

Cinderella has a hero viewers can root for as Braddock takes on champ Max Baer (whose punches had already killed two opponents)—and there's nothing wrong with that. Crowe is sinewy perfection in and out of the ring, giving a full-hearted performance in which every gesture feels right. Playing Braddock's loving wife, Zellweger is peachy; ditto Giamatti as the boxer's long-suffering manager. So, what's the catch? Just as Ron Howard is, by all accounts, a thoroughly nice guy, so is this a thoroughly nice, uncomplicated film. A viewer will remember Cinderella fondly, but unlike that true heavyweight Million Dollar Baby, the film won't haunt you for months. (PG-13)

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