Opening 8 Sep 2005
Stories of success against all odds had special force during the devastating Depression years giving courage to people who themselves were struggling just to be able to feed their children. The inspiring chronicle of the runty racehorse, Seabiscuit, was for millions of Depression-weary Americans in1936 a source of strength. Now along comes another true story of a big win – an astonishing comeback from ruin and loss for a boxer, brought to the screen by Ron Howard (Apollo 13).
Russell Crowe plays down-and-out boxer James J. Braddock, who is stunned by his inability to meet the most basic costs of life: food, shelter, heat, and light, for his wife (Renée Zellweger) and their three children in the early 1930s. Those terrible times and the wretched lives of men who tried every means to earn a few quarters to pay for the milk for their kids are well documented in the film. It even includes scenes of Hooverville – a collection of shanties built of cardboard in Central Park where too many lived (and died).
Braddock, once a hugely successful boxer, had disappeared from the fight scene with no way to earn a living in a world where the most menial jobs have disappeared. Desperate for money to pay his bills, Braddock accepts a fight despite a broken hand and loses. But his determination to keep his children at home instead of farming them out to relatives who are slightly better off forces him to accept Roosevelt’s new social welfare hand out and then, with luck, he begins to get jobs as a longshoreman on the docks. It is hardly enough. One day his manager, Paul Gould (Paul Giamatti), shows up with an offer: Braddock can win $200 if he agrees to a fight no one expects him to win and which may indeed cause him great physical harm. To the astonishment of his family, the fans and the boxing commission, he wins and his manager puts him back in the ring, although Braddock is already in his early 30s. Braddock’s chance comes when he is pitted, with seemingly impossible odds, against Max Baer (Craig Bierko), a formidable boxer and the reigning world champion. Baer has won all his fights and in the process, killed two of his opponents in the ring. Braddock’s legendary 15-round battle, his sturdy moral character, his strong, loving wife and three great kids were an inspiration to all who followed the incredible events, and is still a moving, uplifting story today. But sitting through this film requires great tolerance for the violence of boxing. Howard does not hold back. The scenes are choreographed to shock – bloody, gory, frightening. The gruelling Baer vs.Braddock scenes are the most difficult to watch and they go on forever. The heartening story of a truly remarkable man keeps you in your seat, but for me, the end of this film could not come quickly enough. (Adele Riepe)