is a wholesome slice of old-fashioned Americana, offering welcomed relief from the shallowness of many summer blockbusters. In dramatising the legendary Depression-era comeback of impoverished boxer Jim Braddock, director Ron Howard benefits from another superb collaboration with his A Beautiful Mind
star Russell Crowe, whose portrayal of Braddock is simultaneously warm, noble, and tenacious without resorting to even the slightest hint of sentimental melodrama.
The desperate struggle of the American Depression is more keenly felt here than it was in Seabiscuit, and Howard shows its economic impact in ways that strengthen the bonds between Braddock, his supportive wife--Renée Zellweger--and three young children, and his loyal manager, played by Paul Giamatti; all are forced to make sacrifices leading up to Braddock's title bout against heavyweight champion Max Baer in one of greatest boxing matches in the history of the sport.
Boasting the finest production design, cinematography and editing that Hollywood can offer, this is a feel-good film that never begs for your affection; it's just good, classical American filmmaking, brimming with qualities of decency and fortitude that have grown all too rare in the big-studio mainstream. --Jeff Shannon
Director Ron Howard and star Russell Crowe team up again for this rousing biopic following their Oscar-winning collaboration, A Beautiful Mind
. It's the true story of boxer James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe), a heavyweight contender from New Jersey nicknamed the Bulldog of Bergen, who lost his fame and fortune during the Great Depression, only to win the hearts of the downtrodden during a spectacular comeback. Crowe is masterful as Braddock, with Renee Zellweger playing his wife, and Paul Giamatti as his loyal friend and manager, Joe Gould. The sharply observed script devotes a significant amount of screen time to the domestic struggles of Braddock's family; developing character and place with a wealth of period detail, so when the comeback starts, the payoff is enormous. The matches themselves are unforgettable: raw, intense, riveting, with more than a passing stylistic nod to Martin Scorsese's groundbreaking 1980 film, Raging Bull
. Though it may sound a bit formulaic, one should remember that this is the true and original underdog boxer story from which all others hail, and it's riveted together with true craftsmanship. Howard has a real skill for plucking audience members' heartstrings, and the performances are first-rate. Giamatti and Crowe play off each other in a rapport perfectly suited to their roles, especially at the ring, where the one's manic intensity makes a perfect contrast to the other's warrior grace.