News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: Knockout film has one problem

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–No matter the subject, no matter the genre, a film critic enters a cineplex — Jujubes in hand — hoping for a good time.

Well, I found one. Alas, “Cinderella Man” has some unsatisfying content. But more about that later. First, let me fill you in concerning this Universal picture starring Russell Crowe and directed by the most liked man in Tinseltown, Ron Howard.

Crowe stars as legendary athlete Jim Braddock, a once-promising light heavyweight boxer forced into retirement after a string of losses in the ring. As the nation entered the darkest years of the Great Depression, Braddock accepted a string of dead-end jobs to support his wife and their children, while never totally abandoning his dream of boxing again. Suddenly, Braddock found himself back in the ring against the second-ranked world contender — and to everyone’s amazement, Braddock won in the third round.

Despite being pounds lighter than his opponents and despite repeated injuries to his hands, Braddock continued to amaze fight fanatics. Carrying on his shoulders the hopes and dreams of the disenfranchised masses, Braddock, dubbed the “Cinderella Man,” faced his toughest challenger in Max Baer, the heavyweight champion of the world, renowned for having killed two men in the ring.

Braddock — not so much a great boxer as a great man who boxed — climbed into the ring seeking nothing more than to provide for his wife and children. His commitment to them inspired him to championship. And his courage inspired our nation.

It’s the best boxing movie I have ever seen. And I’ve seen them all — from “Golden Boy” to “Raging Bull” to “Rocky” -– and all the wannabes in between.

Certainly “Raging Bull,” starring Robert De Niro and directed by Martin Scorsese, is the definitive boxing movie. The difference between these two films, however, is that after “Raging Bull” you are overwhelmed by the artistic and technical achievements of its star, director and cinematographer, but left with senses pummeled, feeling grimy and depressed. When you leave “Cinderella Man,” you are uplifted, filled with optimism.

Remember back at the beginning of this column when I mentioned some dissatisfying content? Well, here’s the problem. There are several misuses of God’s name and even more of Jesus Christ. If hearing the occasional profanity is where you draw the line when choosing movies, be warned, you will hear it in “Cinderella Man.” That said, there is one small consolation. I did not catch the lead uttering any of these profanities. Rather, most of the objectionable language came from Braddock’s boxing manager, played by Paul Giamatti.

There are subtle but powerful religious elements and images contained in “Cinderella Man.” And even after a depressed and seemingly hopeless Braddock refuses to pray over dinner, later we see the family in prayer, and one gets the distinct impression that our hero has renewed his faith. This film also presents a priest not as incompetent or perverted, but as a good guy and, well, priestly.

Ron Howard’s direction avoids a phony or maudlin execution. Rather, the involving and well-paced movement of the narrative evidences his skill. Along with Howard’s desire to tell a great sports movie that is an equal love story that spotlights a tender love for family, writers Cliff Hollingsworth, C. Gaby Mitchell and Akiva Goldsman give this generation an insightful look at the tribulations people faced during the Great Depression. They also point out what brought our nation through such a long-lasting ordeal –- a steadfast resolve not to let the flame of hope burn out. Though this touching look at that era saddens the heart at times, it is a revealing portrait of America’s ability to withstand overwhelming ordeals.

I hate the film’s occasional bad language, but the other elements, for me, at least, made “Cinderella Man” a knockout.

Cinderella Man” opens June 3 and is rated PG-13 (profanity and obscenity spring up throughout, but I caught no misuse of God’s name by the lead; intense boxing violence; the subject material of trials faced by Americans during the Great Depression may not be suitable for little ones, but it might teach teens about that devastating era).
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective. For further information, go to his website at www.moviereporter.com.

    About the Author

  • Phil Boatwright