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Cinderella Man
Dome Cinema 
Directed by Ron Howard. Written by: Cliff Hollingsworth (story); Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman (screenplay). Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Giamatti, Renee Zellweger. 144 mins. USA.

By Sam Gerrans

Review top sheet: this is a long film but it’s so well done you won’t notice. If you go to see it, be prepared to care what happens.

Will you like this film?

Yes, if: you liked “Million Dollar Baby”
No, if: you’re at all squeamish
Maybe, if: you’ve ever been laid off work for any length of time

Comments: coming so close on the heels of “Million Dollar Baby” I was concerned this might be one of those ambulance-chaser films. But it isn’t. It is a gut-wrenching, believable, inspirational, hard-hitting drama which stands tall on its own merits and is a top film of the year for me.

It clearly cost a mint to produce. But with a first-rate script to work from the expense was justified on all counts.

I shall digress here slightly as there is something I wish to get off my chest, and now seems an appropriate place to do it. As someone who has to go to the cinema a lot, I obviously have to deal with the, well, unpleasant side of cinema-going far more often than the average person. So I’ve developed a strategy for minimising the annoyance factor given that, yes, I have to share the hall with other people.

I try to sit as far as possible from anyone with boxes of popcorn and a drink (they are going to munch right through the next 120 minutes and keep getting up to go to the toilet).

I have also developed a sort of pre-emptive metal voodoo to discourage any female whose hair threatens to go bouffant from sitting in my line of vision, and I have about a 90 percent success rate with that.

Lastly, I try to put a lot of distance between myself and any couple plus friend. This friend is going to be so painfully aware of not being part of the couple that she (and it is nearly always a she) will feel the need to keep up some sort of really urgent communication by mobile phone about some drama happening with someone else who also has a boyfriend. This will entail lots of flashing mobile displays, beeps and whispering.

But I must warn you now of a new scourge blighting the public cinemas. And the plague of which I speak is particularly rife at films like the one under discussion which is why I mention it here.

“Cinderella Man” is an emotionally engrossing film. And for some reason, films like this attract people who feel the need to predict, at key points in the story, what’s about to happen (ostensibly to their partner) in a voice just loud enough for everyone else to hear. It’s like they are doing an advanced degree in stating the crashingly obvious and they’re out together on a field trip.

If you are one of these people, let me tell you now: you are not providing a public service. We all know this thing is going to happen. You’re not a genius. You’re meant to know it. The director and the scriptwriter wanted you to know it and they designed the film so that you would know it.. You are not helping anyone. You are not enlightening anyone. You are just spoiling the film. If you do it again, I and everyone in rows 3 to 10, will rise up out of our seats as one man and come and beat you to a bloody pulp.

Yes, cinemas can be stressful places.

Ommmm.

Out-of-five star ratings:

• Story: *****
• Dialogue: ****
• Substance: ****
• Film craft: *****

Story comments: the story here is beautifully designed. It is a well-balanced construct based around a clear-cut desire. But this is not the sort of desire that people like Tom Cruise are capable of having. Like when he’s got to shag some incredibly beautiful woman in order to get hold of the microfilm which is going to save the world. I’d like to relate to that sort of difficulty but, frankly, I don’t. “Cinderella Man” is populated by people whose desires are less shiny – more humdrum, in fact – but no less crucial within their own terms.

It may be interesting to watch the neon-lit high-tech setbacks of super rich congenital geniuses dissected for me, but personally I don’t relate. Jim Braddock’s drama (pleasingly rendered by Russell Crowe) is the quintessential small man’s struggle. You want him to make it but you know he probably won’t.

That said, this is not a depressing “reality” drama. You will care what happens.

Dialogue comments: this film was tastefully and, well, correctly cast. The relationship between Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) and his wife (Ren?e Zellweger) was a little lovey-dovey and overly in-love for my personal taste, but this is an American film after all and I’m from England where people don’t fall in love so much as drink tea and complain about the weather.

I am personally glad to see Paul Giamatti hit the big time. He so deserves it. His negged out, life’s-out-to-help-me-shoot-myself-in-the-foot thing is a niche he has made all his own. He’s a great actor and ungoodlooking enough to be likeable. Since his blinding delivery in “Sideways”, I’m a confirmed fan.

Substance comments: this is about the small man’s quest against the odds to claim what’s his by rights.

As a sideline, the film handles the male role in society. That Western men have been psychologically emasculated should be self-evident to the reader and there’s no need to go into it here. This film depicts a very male man striving to fulfil his genetic purpose against the might of an economic environment that would thwart him.

The film is pleasantly free of all the embedded psychological “PC” man-hating programming found in so many films today. If you are fortunate enough to ever have been in a city with no billboards (e.g. Moscow circa 1990) you will know how pleasant something can be by its absence. The psychological effect here is similar.

Film craft: great sets, great (but not overdone) cinematography, superb delivery on all fronts. Must have cost untold millions. But, frankly, this is one of those rare cases where it was worth it.

A taste of the story: Jim Braddock – a one-time boxer – struggles to put food on his family’s table during the Great Depression. His battle against the odds comes to embody the plight of millions.


Sam Gerrans is a freelance writer and translator: http://samgerrans.com.

08.10.05
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