Movies: A Man, a Punch, A Simpler Time

Like most boxing pictures, Cinderella Man is about an underdog becoming a top dog. But that description doesn't begin to suggest the distinctions of director Ron Howard's very good, epically scaled film.

To begin with, it tells a true story, that of James J. Braddock, who may be the most unlikely heavyweight champion in history. When we meet Braddock (Russell Crowe), he's a promising pug, who is quickly reduced to has-been status by injuries and the Depression. Howard realizes the period with perfect authenticity: the biting chill, the hungry faces, the bleak desperation.

Crowe's Braddock is similarly genuine—a winning blend of simplicity, stubbornness...

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