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Movie review ****

Russell Crowe and Ren e Zellweger Make ‘Cinderella Man’ a Knockout

By Yong-yi Zhu

Cinderella Man

Directed by Ron Howard

Written by Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman

Starring Russell Crowe, Ren e Zellweger, Bruce McGill, Ariel Waller, and Paddy Considine

Rated PG-13

Ron Howard has been picking all the right fights recently, and “Cinderella Man” is a total knockout of a movie. Not only is the film a delight, its Oscar prospects are overwhelming. Howard scores big with Russell Crowe, but Ren e Zellweger puts the movie over the top. And of course, the true story of the Cinderella man, on which the movie is based, is not too shabby either. Howard may be bringing another boxing movie to the front of the competition for this year’s best picture award, following on the heels of Million Dollar Baby’s win last year.

Crowe stars as James J. Braddock, a prize fighter who seemingly loses it all when a hand injury and the depression strike together. The struggles of the Braddock family epitomize the cruel reality of the depression. They don’t have enough food to eat or enough money to pay the bills; when the children fall sick in the winter, they almost have to leave the city and the family. But throughout tough times, Braddock’s motivation to support his family builds, no matter what it takes. Braddock’s manager eventually arranges a fight in which Braddock is the overwhelming underdog. Braddock agrees purely for monetary reasons, but ends up winning the fight, beginning his return to greatness, in which he steals the hearts of the working class.

The movie’s greatest strength is the acting. Having already conquered Rome as a gladiator and taken Princeton by storm with his beautiful mind, Russell Crowe is now the underdog seeking to destroy Max Baer (Craig Bierko). Crowe is entirely convincing as the aloof boxer just trying to stay alive. His moves in the ring are genuine, and he never fails to impress with his physical presence and prowess, even as the underdog. His natural talent as a subtle actor makes the already dramatic movie yet more realistic; he naturally blends the violent boxer with the kind and caring father. Another Best Actor Oscar nomination is surely in the works.

Though Crowe is the main attraction, Ren e Zellweger steals the spotlight with her performance as Braddock’s wife, Mae. She is multi-dimensional: a caring mother, a loving wife, and a woman torn by everything happening around her. If the word perfection can describe an acting performance, this would be the occasion to use it.

Overall, the movie is terrific. The fights are realistic; you can almost feel the blood and sweat on your own shirt as the fights become more and more violent, and you find yourself ducking the punches as much as Braddock is in the ring. The sound and music draw you even deeper into the story of this fragile boxer. The fantastic sets bring you back to the depression era. Realism is the middle name of this movie.

If I had to recommend one movie this summer, “Cinderella Man” would be the one. I can easily give this film two thumbs way up.