'Cinderella Man' and 'Head-On'
Dir. Ron Howard; writ. Akiva Goldsman and Cliff Hollingsworth; feat. Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Paddy Considine, Craig Bierko (PG-13)
Easily the best film of the year thus far, Cinderella Man follows the true story of Jim Braddock (Crowe), a down-and-out boxer who has nothing to live for but his family. During the Depression, Braddock becomes the great white hope for those fellow penniless Americans who watch him climb the ranks to boxing's ultimate prizefight, a battle for the heavyweight title against the flamboyant Max Baer (Bierko). In Braddock's corner is his wife, Mae (Zellweger), and his trainer Joe Gould (Giamatti), who gives him a second chance at life in the ring.
|Paul Giamatti coaches Russell Crowe through his comeback in Cinderella Man.|
Like the spirited haymakers that Braddock throws, Cinderella Man hits on every level. Crowe and director Ron Howard (reunited from 2001's Best Picture, A Beautiful Mind) create an emotional powerhouse and some of the most realistic fight scenes ever captured on film. Giamatti's (Sideways) animated "pop, pop, bang" motivation and Zellweger's (Cold Mountain) strong sensibility round out the quality performances. The '30s is also captured fitting through cinematography and design, along with a beautiful score by seven-time Academy Award-nominated composer Thomas Newman (American Beauty).
The clock never ticks its way to midnight as Cinderella Man rides high in fairytale-like narrative until the final bell.
Dir. Fatih Akin; writ. Akin; feat. Birol Unel, Sibel Kekilli, Catrin Striebeck, Guven Kyrac, Meltem Kumbel (NR)
Midway through Head-On, audiences discover startling facts about the film's lead character, Cahit. This revelation, along with others, rests at the core of this sobering tale of redemption and love.
|Birol Unel and Sibel Kekilli's characters find they have much more in common than displacement in the European Union in Head-On.|
We enter the story watching Cahit (Unel) on the brink of destruction. Director Fatih Akin crafts the film's intense opening scenes with subtlety, letting Cahit's onscreen behavior and the film's racing soundtrack drive the emotion. Soon after our introduction, Cahit encounters Sibel (Kekilli), who, like him, suffers from feeling lost in a world where everyone else seems to get "it." Sibel is a wandering soul who seeks love, joy, and discovery despite the wishes of her family. Her love for Cahit leads to his redemption. Their scenes together are thoughtfully written and genuine.
Head-On also examines Turkish culture and the clash of new and old values. Akin wisely touches these points in passing, letting the central story evolve independent of cultural commentary.
Akin, who also wrote the film, arcs his characters delicately while maintaining intensity. If not for an average third act, littered with awkward scenes that are detrimental to the film's pacing, Head-On would be truly exceptional. However, considering the moribund state of cinema, we can be elated with this above-average pleasure.
— Mario Ochoa