2005 Running time: 144 Certificate: 12 Rating: 4

Synopsis

Russell Crowe and director Ron Howard repeat the one-two combination that made a winner of A Beautiful Mind with the story of 1930s American boxing hero James J Braddock. A mythical folk figure to millions suffering in the Depression, the journeyman boxer inspired a generation with his never-say-die approach. Craig Bierko packs a villainous punch as heavyweight nemesis Max Baer, though trainer Paul Giamatti and wife Renee Zellweger ensure there's plenty of support in Jimmy's corner.

Director

  • Ron Howard

Cast

  • Russell Crowe

  • Renee Zellweger

  • Paul Giamatti

  • Craig Bierko

  • Bruce McGill

  • Paddy Considine

Review

In the midst of the Great Depression, sport provides an escape for America's poor.

So when one of their own breaks free of the breadline to get a shot at the title, the nation has an underdog to cheer for... Yes folks, it's Seabiscuit with boxing gloves!

Actually, that's a low blow. Ron Howard's meaty biopic follows the conventions of the genre but deftly mixes brawn with brains to stay the distance in terms of pure entertainment.

Despite never having been knocked out, age and injury finally catch up with journeyman boxer Jim Braddock (Crowe).

After losing his licence to fight, he is forced to swallow his pride, sign up for welfare and join the daily queues for work at New York's dockyards.

Then Jim, his wife Mae (Zellweger) and their three kids are thrown a lifeline.

His old friend and trainer Joe Gould (Giamatti) has secured Jim a one-off fight as a replacement contender... which he duly wins.

Within months, Jim earns himself a showdown with fearsome heavyweight champion Max Baer (Bierko).

But Mae is terrified as two of Baer's opponents never got up again. The press have already written Jim's obituary - but with Joe and the general public behind him, he has to give it his best shot.

Come the awards season, Crowe (life motto: act first and repent later) is a shoo-in. To see why, look no further than the scene where he goes cap in hand to his former paymasters.

And judges will be pencilling in Cinderella Man as a contender elsewhere too.

Giamatti is typically excellent as a sort of Jiminy Cricket in reverse (Braddock is the one with the conscience), Zellweger brings her Academy-friendly brand of doughty cuddliness to Mae, and the mood of Depression-era New York is effectively captured.

The movie does have a manipulative streak. Behr is presented as a pantomime villain, his horns being almost as apparent as the halos worn by Saint Jim and his family.

And the subplot involving Paddy Considine's fellow struggler is an unnecessary waste of time.

But it all comes together in the rousing, expertly edited fight scenes; the fist-clenching climax will have you jabbing and feinting all the way home.

As Joe would say: "Pop pop, pow!"

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