Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Media Watch:
Dramatic, uplifting boxing tale stands out among summer’s comic book movies

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the July 7, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

As we move into the summer season of movies based on cartoons, old television shows and action-adventure extravaganzas, it is good to note that there is a serious film out there. Cinderella Man is an engaging story of a boxing hero who cared about his family. It is presented within the context of the Great Depression and reminds us what those in their 70s and 80s went through back in the 1930s.

In the late 1920s boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) and his wife Mae (Renee Zellweger) with their small children live in beautiful home. Jim’s boxing career is going well. But then we fast forward to the depths of the Depression in the early ’30s when the Braddock family is struggling in a dingy apartment in New Jersey. Jim is no longer able to fight because of a break of his hand and notoriously poor showing in a “last chance” bout.

Mae is worried about the health of the kids. Jim tries to work on the docks but only a few of the hundreds of men at the gates of the Hoboken shipyards get chosen each day.

There is a poignant scene during this time when Jim speaks to his son Jay (Connor Price), explaining that it is wrong to steal a sausage from the meat market. Jay tells his Dad that he did it because he is so afraid that he and his brother and sister will be sent away to live with relatives. Jim promises his son that will never happen.

When Mae sends the kids away after the electricity is turned off, not knowing of Jim’s promise to Jay, Jim is devastated. The result is he applies for welfare and goes to Madison Square Garden with hat in hand and begs from the bigwigs he once knew as an equal and for whom he once made large sums of money.

The movie moves toward hope as suddenly Jim is offered a one-time match by his trainer Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti). It is assumed that Jim will be a sacrificial lamb in the bout. But his work on the docks has strengthened his upper body so everyone is surprised when he wins.

All this leads up to the main event of the movie when Jim is given the opportunity to challenge the champion Max Baer (Craig Bierko) in a major fight of the Depression.

The film tells the story of Mae’s trepidation over Jim returning to the ring. In a surprising scene she goes to the swanky Fifth Avenue apartment of manager-trainer, Joe Gould.

There is a subplot of how the poor and Irish Catholics identified with Jim as he returned to boxing. His pastor even brought the radio into the sanctuary so parishioners praying for Jim could hear the big fight.

Russell Crowe again is outstanding in this Ron Howard-directed film. Paul Giamatti, witha performance very different from his role in the recent film Sideways, is excellent as the manager with heart. Renee Zellweger does well in a part that doesn’t give her much range. She is appropriately sad, fearful and loving.

Press reports tell us that the family of Max Baer feel he has been overly demonized in the film. My guess is they may be right. But Craig Bierko does an excellent job of playing the bad guy part to the full. Just a couple of years ago, wasn’t Bierko on Broadway as The Music Man? From song and dance to a very credible heavyweight champion is quite a feat.

Cinderella Man is a movie of remembrance, violence, and sentiment. It reminds us well of a key moment in American history when millions of Americans struggled for meals and housing, let alone a job. For many, the boxing violence will be very intense. Cinderella Man is a crowd pleaser that leaves a lump in your throat.

Cinderella Man is rated PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned) by the Motion Picture Association of America. There is intense boxing violence and some strong language. The U.S Bishops Committee on Film and Broadcasting rates Cinderella Man A-III – for adults.

*****

Summer has arrived. In movie terms it is time for lots of entertaining “popcorn” movies. At least, that is what Hollywood tries to do.

The summer’s first big comic book film has arrived in Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s return to the roots of the Batman saga. I can tell you that there are lots of fine actors in this journey to the dark side of the Batman series. At over two hours it seemed too long to me. The middle school students in front of me seemed restless at times. I would suspect that adults who aren’t into comic book adventures will find Batman Begins interesting and intriguing.

The movie begins with a child actor playing Bruce Wayne, the eventual alter ego of Batman, falling in a deep, deserted well where hundreds of bats come flying out to the light above. This childhood experience is traumatic for young Wayne. Later, Bruce’s parents, leaving an opera at his anxious request, are brutally killed by a thief.

A grown-up Wayne (Christian Bale) eventually travels to China, where he is imprisoned. There he meets a mentor Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), who helps him meet his fears with physical and psychological training.

Wayne returns to Gotham, where his child hood friend Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) is now an idealistic assistant district attorney who seeks to fight the corruption of the mafia-like crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). Rachel is put off by Bruce Wayne’s playboy manner, which we know is a front as he plans the revelation of his Batman persona.

Morgan Freeman is delightful as the scientific resource guy who is employed by Wayne’s giant family-owned corporation. Michael Caine as the lovable butler Alfred is both friend and confidante, well aware who his charge is becoming as he takes on his crime-fighting Batman role.

Much of the film centers on the probable destruction of Gotham through a deadly mist that a number of bad guys have made come to pass. I must admit I may be a little slow but I was surprised to find out who the supreme bad guy was.

Add to all of this the traditional damsel in distress in the Rachel Dawes character, and you have the familiar setup for good versus evil, albeit with the reality that some evil deeds are said to be good.

Christopher Nolan is a talented director. He gave us the thriller Memento, in which the movie’s story was told in five-minute segments – going backwards. Christian Bale has grown very much in gravitas as he has transformed himself from a child actor to a major film star. Katie Holmes seemed very young for the assistant prosecuting attorney role. Gary Oldman as a good cop in a corrupt city is very good.

There is lots of movie violence in Batman Begins. In the end, Nolan is able to make an old comic franchise come alive with new vigor. But it is a “popcorn movie.” For lots of moviegoers, that may well be enough.

Batman Begins is rated PG-13 – some material might be inappropriate for children under 13). There is intense bloodless violence with the gun death of a child’s parents and lots of bats.

The U.S Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Batman Begins A-III – for adults.

(Father Caswell is the Ecumenical Relations Officer and the archivist for the Diocese of Spokane, as well as a regular contributor to the Inland Register.)


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