(Ron Howard, 2005)
Ron Howard is less a bland filmmaker - a frequent accusation - and more an incredibly old-fashioned one. He seems like a stock contract director who worked for Fox in the 1950s across a variety of genres, turning out comedies and Westerns and thrillers, none of them brilliant, none of them terrible (setting aside the aberrative Dan Brown adaptations, which even Hitchcock couldn't have saved), none of them evincing much particular directorial personality or style. Hes a Pro, in other words. And Cinderella Man may be his most purely old-fashioned film, with its triumph of the spirit, its cookie-cutter three act structure, its mean villain and it's big stars in the leads. Based on the incredible story of Jim Braddock and his rise from poverty to World Champion during the Great Depression, it is incredibly manipulative and, dammit, it works. There are good things: Russell Crowe is convincing both as last-chance fighter and desperate family man, Paul Giamatti is brilliant - moving, hilarious - as his trainer, Salvatore Totino's cinematography is lovely, and the fight scenes steal from more or less every boxing film ever made to solid, occasionally stylish effect. Less impressive are the vague shapes towards poliical meaning the film throws, personified by Paddy Considine's ill-conceived Union agitator. Indeed the entire storyline involving Considine could be excised and the film would benefit. But it does what it intends to do nevertheless - by the climax, you want Crowe to win that fight, you need Crowe to win that fight. A vivid expression of the power of the sports movie and a handsome, well-crafted piece of old fashioned entertainment.