Cinderella Man probably isn't Ron Howard's best film, but it might be his most quintessential one. A man whose talents have always rested on getting audiences to like and root for characters, Howard uses every weapon -- acting, casting, lighting, editing, art direction, music -- at a filmmaker's disposal to win viewers over. He won more than half the battle to make Braddock likable as soon as he cast Russell Crowe. Braddock offers the kind of role he does better than anybody -- a man with a maelstrom of emotions swelling under the surface who, when given the opportunity, is able to exorcise those feelings in physical activity. He allows Braddock to lose much of his dignity without making him pathetic. Howard's ability to get good performances, his judicious lack of a saccharine score, and the detailed but never showy period details add up to a very Howardesque quality that might be called melodramatic realism. There are almost always interesting supporting performances in Howard's films, and Cinderella Man is no exception. Paul Giamatti, an actor simply unable to do anything out of character no matter who the character is, serves up yet another award-caliber performance. Set in a world that would not seem to reward intelligence, Giamatti's character thrives on that very attribute. He knows how to manipulate those around him, but never does so in a harmful way. His scenes with ace character actor Bruce McGill are textbook examples of great no-frills acting. The film has moments where it overreaches for the melodrama, and the drive of the film stalls slightly during the extended third act, where the audience is left waiting for too long for the final fight to start, but Cinderella Man is at its heart old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing entertainment made and performed without cynicism.
by Perry Seibert review