© 2005 Ray Wong
Stars: Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Craig Bierko, Paddy Considine, Bruce McGill
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Cliff Hollingsworth, Akiva Goldsman
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense boxing violence and some language
Running time: 144 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 9
Direction – 9
Cinematography – 9
Editing – 9
Production – 10
Total Score – 8.5 out of 10
Ron Howard and Russell Crowe are at it again. After their Oscar-nominated collaboration of A BEAUTIFUL MIND, the two men join forces again for yet another uplifting all-American story about man triumphing over his circumstances.
James J. “Bulldog” Braddock (Crowe) is a successful boxer with a supportive wife, Mae (Zellweger), and three beautiful children. Everything seems to be going well until the Great Depression hits America. Braddock loses his house, his money and, when he breaks his hand during a match, his boxing career.
To support his family, Braddock works at the dock whenever jobs are available. Still, no matter how hard he tries, life finds a way to beat him down. He can’t afford to pay the rent and heat and food, and is on the verge of losing his kids. He swallows his pride and “begs” for help. His former manager, Joe Gould (Giamatti), takes pity on him and offers him a one-time-only chance to redeem himself, and perhaps earn enough money to get out of the pit. With nothing to lose, Braddock delivers. Soon, the boxing world takes notice and suddenly Braddock has a career again. Then comes the time when he must face the reigning heavyweight champion, Max Baer (Bierko), who has killed two men in the ring before. Fearing for her husband’s life, Mae begs Braddock to reconsider.
Crowe (MASTER AND COMMANDER) does a great job as the taciturn and resolute Irishman. Jim Braddock is a man of very few words, and it takes great skills to convey the emotions and make us believe in the hero. Crowe’s performance is more restrained and powerful than in A BEAUTIFUL MIND. Zellweger (BRIDGET JONES) is lovely and effectively demure as Mae. She always look sensational in 30s garbs (as she did in CHICAGO). She and Crowe also have wonderful, sweet chemistry together. You really do believe in their relationship. Giamatti (SIDEWAYS) continue to amaze us with his acting chops. His Joe Gould is one of the most endearing characters in the whole film. Together with Crowe and Zellweger, he completes a dynamic trio.
Bierko (DICKIE ROBERTS) swaggers with menace as the womanizing Max Baer, the boxing champ/actor and father of BEVERLY HILL BILLIES star Max Baer, Jr. Rumor has it that Crowe and Bierko don’t see eye to eye on and off the set. If that’s true, it only helps the film because we can truly feel the tension and distain between these two men. Considine (STONED) seems to be a little lost in his small role as Braddock’s tragic friend Mike Wilson, but McGill (COLLATERAL) is effectively chilly as Prizefighting chairman Jimmy Johnston.
The script by Hollingsworth (TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE) and Goldsman (A BEAUTIFUL MIND) is consistent and solid. One can argue, however, if it’s factually accurate. The film does depict Braddock as an almost-saint, Mae as an almost-Mother Teresa, and Baer as an utter jerk. However, in a “feel-good” all-American biopic, sometimes such archetypes are necessary to draw in the viewers, and cutting character complexities helps streamline the plot. In this case, the writers have done a great job. The story is taut and it flows extremely well – one hardly notices the 144-minute running time.
After the miserable THE MISSING, director Howard goes back to his schmaltz root. Fortunately, even though the film hinges on being manipulative, Howard does not dwell on it. Sure, there are swelling triumphs, down-trotted heartbreaks, nail-biting suspense and cute little kids in sad situations, but Howard never lets them linger to make them corny and unbearable. In fact, the film is so engaging that I can’t keep my eyes off the screen, and so I don’t have time to ponder how sentimental it is. Granted, I don’t really have a problem with sentimental movies, if they’re done well. Here, Howard has given us a top-notch production with a true heart. The details of the period are amazing. The cinematography is gorgeous. Combined with a stellar cast, it’s a Cinderella story we could all root for.