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Time Out says
Dubbed the ‘Cinderella Man’ by the writer Damon Runyon, James J Braddock (Russell Crowe) was the working-class boxing hero of Depression-era America, a former contender of Irish stock forced to scrape a living on the New Jersey docks to feed his family. Offered a second chance as the pugilistic patsy in a no-win fight against an up-and-comer, Braddock chose to rewrite the script, his against-the-odds comeback culminating with his winning the world heavyweight crown in 1935. Reteaming with his ‘A Beautiful Mind’ star, Ron Howard pumps the too-good-to-be-true narrative for all its triumphant, emotional worth, scoring a points victory despite the heavy emphasis on family values and easy mythologising – in contrast to ‘Raging Bull’s’ Jake La Motta, for instance, Braddock has no dark side; a demon in the ring, he’s a virtual saint outside it. Yet Crowe, in a wonderfully measured performance that flexes both his muscles and acting chops, plays him determined and resilient, tempering the heroics with an earnestness that keeps Braddock halfway human. Renee Zellweger lends fine support as his plucky wife Mae, standing by her man (but never ringside), and the marvellous Paul Giamatti brings zip to his role as Braddock’s coach. Howard, meanwhile, curtails his melodramatic tendencies enough to fashion a handsomely crafted piece of old-school entertainment that his DoP bathes throughout in a rich, poetic light. The fight scenes have a stinging authenticity and, although at 144 minutes it outstays its welcome, this is Howard’s best film since ‘Apollo 13’.