'Cinderella Man' Lacks Faith in Audience
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Our film critic, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, got an advance look, and he was disappointed.
KENNETH TURAN reporting:
"Cinderella Man" tells James J. Braddock's story, but it does not share the boxer's confidence. The real-life Braddock had enough belief in himself to accomplish miracles in the ring, but his film biography has no faith in the audience and that undercuts its ability to deliver complete satisfaction. On the one hand, heavyweight champion Braddock's journey is hard to improve on for innate drama. And in star Russell Crowe, "Cinderella Man" has an actor you never want to bet against, no matter what the odds. Crowe's impressive work as Braddock, his ability to bring integrity as well as skill to his performance, demonstrates why he's the most accomplished of his generation's major male stars.
It's the actor's ability that allows this film to succeed as much as it does. For set against these virtues of story and star are other, more problematic elements. For one thing, so much time is spent inside the ring that viewers may start to feel battered themselves. And then there is co-star Renee Zellweger, who gives one of her more unconvincing performances as Braddock's loyal and loving wife.
But the real difficulty with "Cinderella Man" is the sensibility of director Ron Howard. After a brief flirtation with the dark side, with his underrated Western "The Missing," Howard is back making feel-good movies and doing so with an earnestness that is counterproductive. Like the stereotypical Jewish mother who hampers appetites by prodding children to `Eat, eat,' the director hurts our ability to enjoy a good story by pushing its plot points too insistently. All of the film's key emotional moments feel as if they've been predigested for an audience that can't be trusted to feel things for itself, an audience that needs to be firmly pointed in the appropriate direction, which "Cinderella Man" is more than happy to do.
It is in the nature of movie-making to manipulate the audience, but this string pulling is so obvious, it makes even reality resemble a setup.
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INSKEEP: Those are the thoughts of Kenneth Turan, a film critic for MORNING EDITION and for the Los Angeles Times.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.