Wednesday, June 15, 2005
It’s official, Russell Crowe is the best actor working in Hollywood today.
With his spectacular performance as James J. Braddock in this riches-to-rags-to-riches story of an unlucky boxer in the unlucky time of the Great Depression, Crowe takes over for Tom Hanks as the No. 1 guy I’ll see anything in.
Crowe has proven with an incredible run since The Insider in 1999 that he can play almost any character in any situation, has a terrific taste in scripts and surrounds himself with talented people.
Take away the Meg Ryan- craziness and weird reshoots/editing of Proof of Life (which Crowe was pretty good in) and look at this run. The Insider (1999) is terrific with Crowe in the true story of a whistle blower against big tobacco. Then comes Gladiator (2000) which gave Crowe his Best Actor Oscar in possibly his "worst" best role. That was followed by the tremendous A Beautiful Mind in 2001, which I still believe is Crowe’s best performance and one of the best I’ve seen in the past five or six years. He then did Master and Commander, another fine movie with a terrific performance and now Cinderella Man.
Crowe stars as Braddock, who we first see on the way up. He’s just defeated another poor schmoe who couldn’t stop his thunderous right and is considered a contender. He heads home to his family and we watch them enjoy an evening together, especially between he and wife Mae (Renee Zellwegger).
The movie quickly pans around the house and suddenly jumps ahead into just a few years later and the depression. The family now lives in a run down basement shack with the three kids in one bed and the couple in the other. They can barely afford to eat and are past due on everything.
Braddock lost his money because of the market crash and because of some back luck with injuries. The worst is a broken hand that leads to an embarrassing fight, which forces the boxing commission to revoke Braddock’s license to fight.
He works at the docks, but the economy has them picking four or five men out of 20 or 25 each day. He goes on federal assistance to keep the kids and things look bleak.
Eventually, his manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) gets him a one-time only fight for a good chunk of money and Braddock, now realizing what he’s really fighting for, fights better than ever.
Things go from there and it’s truly an amazing story of what it takes to be a man, of love and family and sacrifice. It's the little things that are really touching. The interactions with the kids. Braddock's paying back the money to federal assistance. Those kinds of things.
Braddock’s story is inspiring to anyone. You don’t have to be a boxing fan to enjoy this movie.
Giamatti and Crowe both deliver Oscar-caliber performances. As two of my favorite actors, I’ll certainly be rooting for them in 2006.
My initial reaction when walking out of Cinderella Man was that it’s a shame Million Dollar Baby won last year’s Academy Award for Best Picture. While Cinderella Man is superior to Baby, I can’t imagine the Oscar going to a boxing movie two straight years.
Whatever. It’s still my top contender at this point.