Boxing with Boredom, TKOed by Tax Evasion.
Surprisingly, this documentary about the largest instance of financial fraud in American history is not the edge of your seat, roller-coaster ride whirlwind of corporate malfeasance I expected it to be. But to be fair, this is not the film’s fault. I feel fairly confident in saying that my expectation to be entertained by two hours of narrated financial records was, quite frankly, retarded. I don’t know why I thought that this film would be fun, in any way, shape, or form. Fun enough, no less, that it would be worth ten of my hard-earned dollars, dollars that could have been better spent further subsidizing my collection of Namor, the Sub-Mariner appearances. The irony of being ripped off by a movie about the biggest corporate rip off in history is not lost on me, however, though I find I am better equipped to appreciate irony when I’m commenting on it wryly from the sidelines, as opposed to angrily staring directly at it as the credits scroll by. But if not entertaining, the least the film could be is informative. I’m still not entirely sure what it is that Enron did before its collapse, though you’d think that a couple of hours of being lectured by accountants and day traders who have clearly chosen their profession based upon being too acne-scarred or wide-mouthed to do anything else would shed some light on the subject. But no, the concept of energy trading still remains as ephemeral to me as the rest of the language of high finance. Frankly, words like “mark-to-market”, “commodity trading”, and “bank” have little meaning to those of us who keep our money in the thermos of an Army of Darkness lunch box, or have our life savings tied up in Magic: The Gathering gaming cards. Nevertheless, the film does tell the tragic tale of several extraordinarily rich people who tried to get richer and failed, at the expense of what appears in the movie to be one telephone line repairman and an investment banker who lost his job. And to that lineman, I would like to extend my deepest apologies for trivializing your plight. I hope you didn’t pay full price for the movie.
OK, let’s get this out of the way quickly. If you liked this movie, you are an idiot. I know that may seem harsh, but keep in mind that I’m at least keeping things politically correct by not labeling you retarded, autistic, or American. I’m just saying that if you believe this is a good film, then you’re the kind of person who thinks that Michael Crichton novels are well written, or that Coldplay makes music any more important than the Britney Spears Greatest Hits collection, and are therefore either an idiot or Roger Ebert. Critics across the board are labeling this film Oscar worthy, presumably based upon the assumption that the entire Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will fall asleep during the film and not wake up until mid-January. Everything about this movie is ridiculously predictable, and that’s not because we know how it ends. Ron Howard, the king of directing from the Filmmaking For Dummies handbook, handles everything the way you’d expect him to, in twice the time you’d expect him to take. The film takes place in the depression, so everything is coloured brown and grey, because clearly you need to have money to afford some red, and be practically bathing in diamond dust to catch a hint of green. The boxing scenes essentially just digitally impose Russell Crowe and some colour onto Raging Bull, and the comic relief is dependably provided by Paul Giamatti, who appears to believe that he can yell his way to an Oscar, since acting his way there didn’t work. The bad guy is essentially Ivan Drago from Rocky IV but Jewish, a remorseless killing machine who has the nerve to be rich when many other people are poor. The fact that boxing films still haven’t risen about the need for a villain is a testament to how stock and familiar this movie is. I realize that traditional narrative conventions require protagonists to have antagonists, especially in the cookie-cutter world of Hollywood scripts, but do they really all have to be Snidely Whiplash crossed with Hitler? Christ, they might just as well have written Jack the Ripper into the title bout, for all the depth and complexity Max Baer gets in this movie. Our hero, of course, is absolutely faultless. At least Rocky was stupid. Russell Crowe as Jim Braddock is flawless to the point of annoyance. You find yourself at the film’s halfway mark, begging for him to club Renee Zellweger in the face with a right hook, not to knock that squinty, stoned look out of her eyes, but just to see something other than perfection from Braddock. And in the end, all we get is another rags to riches story, boring as hell, and about as innovative as Howie Mandell’s stand-up. But yet, nearly every critic loves this movie. Sometimes I think people just respond to what they find familiar, kind of like how people still eat meatloaf because it reminds them of their mom’s cooking, but in reality it tastes like sand and St Hubert’s gravy. By that token, Cinderella Man should be a shoe-in come awards season, since it’ll be as familiar as the third season of The Simpsons to anyone who has ever seen a movie before. But if you, say, only see about one movie a year, and that movie has to have Russell Crowe in it, then by all means, knock yourself out. Or let the movie do it for you.