Just to whet your appetite: The upcoming Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe and directed by Ron Howard, is a thrilling piece of work. No, more than thrilling. I left the screening room this afternoon exhilarated, moved, excited, stirred and overwhelmed, convinced that Cinderella Man is one of the best movies ever made. Since I’ve learned not to trust my early enthusiasms (I had forgotten until some merciless wags recently reminded me that I actually said nice things about the horrible Phantom Menace when it opened six years ago), I’m going to let a few weeks go by and see Cinderella Man again when it opens on June 3 before I say it a second time.
Cinderella Man is the true story of a boxer named James J. Braddock and how he was lost and then found again in the depths of the Great Depression. It’s a great boxing movie — Braddock’s patented style of pugilism is here called “pop pop bang,” and that little soundbite captures the vivid intensity of the scenes in the ring — but it’s not just a boxing movie. It’s a terrific Depression melodrama, but it’s not merely a Depression melodrama. It’s a sterling biopic, but it’s not a standard-issue biopic. It’s, rather, the story of a family man and a portrait of a good marriage — and it’s the depiction of these simple phenomena that makes Cinderella Man so wonderfully powerful.
Howard has become his generation’s answer to William Wyler — a classic cinematic storyteller who can work wonders in any genre. As for Russell Crowe, there’s almost no superlative that wouldn’t be appropriate. Crowe hasn’t made a full-on comedy yet. If it turns out he can do that too, Russell Crowe will then have proved himself unquestionably the greatest screen actor not only of our time, but probably of all time.