Director Ron Howard and star Russell Crowe re-team after their Oscar-winning collaboration, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, for this rousing biopic. It's the true story of boxer James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe), a heavyweight contender from New Jersey nicknamed "the Bulldog of Bergen," who lost his fame and fortune during the Great Depression only to win the hearts of the downtrodden during a spectacular comeback. Crowe is masterful as Braddock, with Renee Zellweger playing his wife, and Paul Giamatti as his loyal friend and manager, Joe Gould. The sharply observed script devotes a significant amount of screen time to the domestic struggles of Braddock's family; developing character and place with a wealth of period detail, so when the comeback starts, the payoff is enormous. The matches themselves are unforgettable: raw, intense, riveting, with more than a passing stylistic nod to Martin Scorsese's groundbreaking 1980 film, RAGING BULL. Though it may sound a bit formulaic, one should remember that this is the true and "original" underdog boxer story from which all others hail, and it's riveted together with true craftsmanship. Howard has a real skill for plucking audience members' heartstrings, and the performances are first-rate. Giamatti and Crowe play off each other in a rapport perfectly suited to their roles, especially at the ring, where the one's manic intensity makes a perfect contrast to the other's warrior grace.
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