A title contender in pre-depression America, Braddock’s career slowly fades away due to injury and a run of bad luck. Eventually his boxing license is revoked after a broken hand causes him to put in a particularly poor contest.
The depression has long since eaten up the Braddock family’s life savings, and Jim is forced to line up daily on the wharves in the off-chance some casual work will be available. After a few hard years living on the poverty line, Braddock is thrown a lifeline, and is offered a chance to fight at Madison Square Garden as a last-minute fill in.
Proving that real life is much stranger than anything Hollywood can offer, Braddock beats the odds to win bouts against several highly-ranked fighters, earning a shot at the Heavyweight title against feared champion Max Baer.
Russell Crowe is convincing as Jim Braddock, relishing the physicality of the role and the chance to play a conventional though understated hero. Paul Giamatti is well cast as Braddock’s manager Joe Gould, a brash New Yorker with a big mouth and a genuine concern for his fighter, and Craig Bierko is great as champion Max Baer, a flashy combination of Ali, Apollo Creed and Hulk Hogan. Initially I thought the vain, trash talking Baer was a bit over-the-top for the period, but a viewing of some original fight footage on the DVD shows that Baer would have been right at home in today’s WWF.
Director Ron Howard focuses much of the action on Braddock’s family life, and in many ways the film plays more like a love story than a sports movie. Renee Zellweger plays Braddock’s wife, Mae adequately but personally I found her and fake Noo Joy-sey accent pretty annoying.
The fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed and realistic, and if you are not a scholar of boxing history, the climactic title fight will have you on the edge of your seat, wondering if Jim can achieve his goal.
My rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦