There was no reason to expect much from Ron Howard's biography of boxer Jim Braddock, who in the summer of 1935 became the most unlikely heavyweight champion in the history of boxing. After all, it's a true tale whose outcome has been predetermined; there could be no tension in its telling, no shock at its finale. And there was never any reason to believe Howard had a masterpiece in him to dash his reputation as a mild-mannered maker of mild-tasting movies. But Cinderella Man is his first great film -- inspirational, but far from hokey; moving, but never saccharine; and gripping, despite its being a fixed fight about a decent man who, in the span of nine months, went from welfare recipient to snatching the champion's belt from Max Baer (Craig Bierko), who swore he could kill Braddock (Russell Crowe) with his fists. Howard and writers Akiva Goldsman and Cliff Hollingsworth squeeze every drop of sweat from their story; its inevitable happy ending is hard earned. Who knew Opie was a contender after all?