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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir Ron Howard
scr Cliff Hollingsworth, Akiva Goldsman
with Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Paddy Considine, Craig Bierko, Bruce McGill, David Huband, Connor Price, Ariel Waller, Patrick Louis, Rosemarie DeWitt, Linda Kash
release US 3.Jun.05, UK 9.Sep.05
05/US Universal-Miramax 2h24
In and out of the ring: Crowe and real boxer Art Binkowski (as Corn Griffin) and, below, with Zellweger
The Beautiful Mind team is back for another edge-less film based on a true story, this time an astonishing tale from Depression-era America. The events are strong enough to keep us gripped, even though the writing and direction are flat and bland.
Jim Braddock (Crowe) was a successful boxer whose career ended due to persistent injury at the same time the nation was plunged into Depression. Struggling to support his steadfast wife (Zellweger) and three kids (Price, Waller and Louis), Jim works on the docks until, out of the blue, his manager (Giamatti) offers him a one-time boxing comeback. Way against the odds, Jim wins. And life takes another astonishing turn.
As Braddock's life follows the highs and lows of this period in American history the film finds strong resonance in both the personal and historical dramas. Crowe once again creates a character who's fascinating and authentic in the high drama, dark comedy and brutally thrilling boxing scenes. And his relationships are portrayed with a steely honesty by the stalwartly grimacing Zellweger, the lively and engaging Giamatti, and especially the open-faced Considine as a brittle, proud friend. His is perhaps the film's finest performance, even though the fictional character is underwritten and poorly plotted.
The excellent acting almost obscures the poor writing and direction. It looks fantastic; no expense was spared to recreate New York and New Jersey in the Great Depression, but it's so warmly lit that it feels like a big-budget film, not real life. Sets, costumes and props are far too slick and detailed; snow looks sprayed onto the ground. And themes are similarly laid on with a trowel--male pride, female stoicism, heart-wrenching family drama, commercialism/greed versus honour/decency. There are several scenes that are genuinely emotional (Jim approaching the boxing bosses for help) and exhilarating (the surging crowd at the final bout). But the script continually undercuts the story with contrived plotting (reducing Bierko's superb Max Baer into the villain of the piece) or gooey sentiment (sending Zellweger into the locker-room for a stirring climactic speech). Braddock's life is a great story. But this is a terrible film.
|Malcolm, UK: "I agree that the acting in this film is of the highest quality. However, to say it is a bad film is ridiculous. I had the good fortune to see this great film on the TV last night and in my opinion it is one of the best films I have seen." (8.Sep.08)
© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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