A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the boxing scenes are intense, featuring slam-cuts, close-ups, brutal sound effects, and images of bloody, beaten flesh. The boxer and his family (including three young, adoring children) suffer poverty, cold winters with no heat, and hunger. Characters smoke, drink, use some language ("Go to hell"), and argue, sometimes vehemently. One character dies from a beating during a scuffle with police. The boxer and his wife kiss earnestly. The film's focus, however, is on its inspiring "message," namely, the underdog fighter -- too old, too small, and too out of practice -- returns to the ring, triumphant as if by sheer will and determination.
What's the story?
A mildly successful boxer who falls on hard times (a broken hand, some disappointing fights), Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe ) learns he's no longer marketable as a fighter; as the Depression takes hold, he can find only occasional work on the docks. Fiercely protective of wife Mae (Renee Zellweger) and their young kids, Jim soon loses his home and, unable to make rent on their tiny basement apartment, swallows his pride in order to go on welfare. In a last-ditch effort to support his family, Jim turns to his former trainer and manager, Joe (Paul Giamatti), who manages to secure a fight for Jim. While most thought Jim to be too old and out of shape, his years of hard work on the dock and hard luck pulled him through, and he won that and many more fights that followed. Jim's success raised the spirits of those brought down by the Great Depression, and his fans were eager to watch him in the fight of his life: that against heavyweight champ Max Baer (Craig Bierko).
Is it any good?
Both heartening and formulaic, this boxing saga is buoyed by Russell Crowe's often remarkable performance. Based on the true story of James Braddock, Ron Howard's CINDERELLA MAN paints him as an inspiring, utterly sincere and admirable underdog. While Jim is surrounded by supporting types played by terrific actors -- good buddy Mike Wilson (Paddy Considine), mutteringly loyal trainer Joe Gould, hard-nosed promoter Jimmy Johnston (Bruce McGill) -- he remains the film's emotional and moral focus, always righteous and worthy, his personal crises mirroring those of his community (one scene shows the aftereffects of a riot and police violence in Central Park, where homeless folks are living in boxes and tents). When he returns to the ring and wins, he becomes a media sensation, a hero for Depression victims. He earns a shot at the heavyweight title, bumped up a weight class since his younger days and facing the arrogant and quite gigantic Max Baer (Craig Bierko), who once killed a man in the ring.
When immersed in Jim's melodrama (courtesy of Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman's hagiographic script), the movie is predictable and deliberate. But the boxing scenes are often stunning, deftly paced, beautifully shot, and eerily subjective. While slow motion lends an overt and familiar poetry to such violence, the more effective shots come faster and more aggressively (and so, perhaps worrisome for younger viewers), punctuated by crowd reactions (some almost as disturbing as the fighters' battered faces). Surprisingly imaginative, these images can be jarring enough to alleviate some of the sappy factor.
Talk to your kids about ...
- In theaters: June 3, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: December 6, 2005
- Cast: Paul Giamatti, Renee Zellweger, Russell Crowe
- Director: Ron Howard
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and martial arts
- Run time: 144 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense boxing violence and some language
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