I've noted before that I am not a fan of Ron Howard as a director. I don't hate him, except that he gets a lot of mainstream attention I don't think he deserves (he's like a younger Clint Eastwood that way). But his movies are always a 6 on a scale of 10 ... he'll pick an interesting subject and, without making a crappy movie, somehow make it less interesting. The true story of Cinderella Man (James J. Braddock rises from welfare to a world championship boxing match) is pretty hard to screw up, and in fact this is one of Howard's better movies, but that's not saying a whole lot, considering the only other one I actually liked was Splash back in 1984. Perhaps this says it best: Howard has made more than one movie where I couldn't manage to watch it all the way until the end, because I was too bored.
The basic story of Cinderella Man, and some of the performances, make this an above-average movie, but still Howard conspires to keep it from approaching greatness. If you played a Movie Cliché Drinking Game where you had to take a drink every time a cliché showed up on the screen, you'd be drunk before an hour had passed. The kid wanting another slice of fried baloney is straight out of Oliver ... the priest looking up towards heaven after one of Braddock's victories is unfortunately only one example of Howard pouring on the sap ... and while by all accounts, Braddock was indeed a decent and honorable man, decency and honor don't often provide enough drama to keep the audience awake. When asked why he fights, Braddock says it's to keep milk on the family table, and there's Ron Howard in a nutshell ... while this movie has tiny pretensions towards statements about poverty, they are overwhelmed by sappiness, and the sap is never, ever balanced with even a bit of knowing irony ... Ron Howard believes in that glass of milk.
Ron Howard's movies are odd in only one way: they are efficient and hard to criticize, yet they aren't much good. It'll get a couple of Oscar noms, though, perhaps for Russell Crowe and/or Paul Giamatti, who seem to get nominated every year (and, to be fair, deserve it pretty much every year). Meanwhile, I like Renée Zellweger, but here she's left with the long-suffering wife role, the one where she asks the hero to choose between boxing or her, and when he chooses boxing, she's still there for him in the end. Cinderella Man is about as good as Million Dollar Baby ... Howard and Eastwood can bask in the glory of their overratedness, for these movies are as good as they're gonna get.