Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
As a bit of braggadocio that would make the hairs on Don King’s neck stand up, 2005’s Cinderella Man opens with a quotation calling Jim Braddock’s human-interest story incomparable to any other in all boxing lore.
That epigram seemed like pre-fight baiting from a trio of Oscar winners behind A Beautiful Mind — director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. But only brief bits of hokum crept into this second-chance fairytale about pugilism’s mythic pull and a look at the grimy reality of Depression-era life.
As he did with Mind, Russell Crowe anchored the film with another convincing gravitational turn — his entire body transformed into middle-heavyweight shape as a down-on-his-luck boxer who gets a shot at success against brutish champ Max Baer.
The Braddock family isn’t a microcosm of the Depression, as economic struggles of the day extend all the way to the gasman dispatched to disconnect their heat. Such big-picture moments masquerading as minor detail help ground the film.
An atypically clean-shaven Paul Giamatti turns in a sweaty, aggressive motor-mouth performance as Jim’s manager, Joe Gould. And, as Jim’s wife, Zellweger shines in depicting a cunningly subtle routine of preparing for possible life as a widow.
Cinematographer Salvatore Totino is enamored of the ring’s smoky fervor, brutality and tension. Hanging within it is the idea of a boxer chasing a ring dream that nobody saw but him, and Howard perfectly places upon that story the populist sheen at which he excels. That epigram is right on.