By: The Dweeb
OK, I will start off this review of Cinderella Man by making a prediction, I know, I know it’s not a hard one to make either. This film will definitely be nominated for something come Oscar time, or at the very least someone will be. Hollywood loves a feel good film, and especially if its based on a true story. Hey, we’re all saps for this sort of thing. Someone has to carry the day for us right? If we can’t live vicariously through film, then what else do we have? Television? Nah. Where am I going with this? I don’t know either.
Ok, back on track. Boxing themed movies seem to have made a comeback of sorts lately. Coming back from the dead, which can be blamed on the Rocky franchise, (Cheese factor increasing each installment) audiences tired of the genre in the late 80’s. Meet Cinderella Man, or Jim Braddock, who for sure was the inspiration behind the original Rocky film. A story about a has been boxer, down on his luck, trying to keep the lights on in his house during the Depression, who makes one of the greatest comebacks ever. Truly an inspiring story, heart wrenching and by the end you wanna stand up and cheer and shout for “Adrian!”. Oh wait wrong film.
This is not a film examining the sport itself, rather, an in depth portrayal of the man behind the gloves. This guy went from king of the hill to the gutter in almost an instant, his life and family fall into some really hard times. Throughout it all, he maintains himself, and fights for not himself, but his family. He takes the second chance he is given and turns it to gold. In so doing, he not only lifts himself, but the nation who follows his every move. He is the spiritual hope of the downtrodden masses. Ron Howard successfully balances the soft tender heartfelt moments against the harsh and the typically brutal world of the boxing ring. One moment our skulls are getting caved in and the next we’re hugging our children.
Howard once again proves he is an outstanding director, and to help bring the source material to the next level his casting choices were crucial. As a film driven by character, he needed some of the best in the business. His choice for Braddock in Russell Crowe was excellent. His performance reminded me a lot of his Maximus character in Gladiator. Soft spoken most of the time, focusing inwardly dealing with his problems and then unleashing his emotions only when the time is right. He doesn’t come across as sappy at all, and you really feel for him. A lot of films have the happy ending automatically inserted and no one blinks and eye. For a change, you aren’t sure of the outcome. You actually want him to win.
Throughout the movie, in Braddocks’ corner is his manager Joe Gould, portrayed by Paul Giamatti. He is Braddocks mentor, trainer, spiritual guide, and loyal friend who takes a huge gamble on bringing Jim back into the ring. He is by far the scene stealer in most of this film, his on screen chemistry with Russell fits well. Joe has some of the snappiest dialogue in the film, especially their exchange when he breaks Jim the news he has a new fight arranged. I really think it is Paul’s turn this year for a Best Supporting Actor nod, and its about time. He was simply awesome in this film.
The casting of Renee Zellweger as Mae Braddock was also an excellent choice. She fit the role well, and in portraying his wife who was unusually outspoken for that time period. Mae essentially kept the family together during the low period, and Renee did an excellent job of showing her as a strong woman character. She stood by her man, even though she hated the fact that Jim was boxing all the time. She makes it clear to the children that they will not follow in his footsteps.
The cinematography and set design are also more than likely going to see an Oscar nomination as well. To reflect the period, the film looks dark and dreary in a lot of places, almost as if it was shot in a sepia tone, yet it still maintains the color. During the boxing matches the action is non stop, the camera moves fluidly from the boxers perspective and you wince every time a blow is landed. I was almost exhausted myself after 15 rounds. The film score by Thomas Newman helps along as well, setting the tone of the period, much like what he did in Road To Perdition which is a similar dark film set in the same period.
Now, to get to the bonus features, Universal decided to make a flipper disc instead of a separate one. I thought this idea went away with the snapper cases a couple of years ago. Most annoying. So, after you get up from the couch to flip the DVD over, there are a few lengthy items to take in as well. Aside from the standard documentary on the casting and general stuff about the creation of the movie, they do include some interesting featurettes on the real Jim Braddock. I thought the most interesting was the Ringside Seats segment, where you can actually watch the fight with Max Baer while listening to commentary by Normal Mailer. Also the interview with his son and extended family is also interesting. You always wonder about the accuracy of documentary type dramas and usually these people aren’t around anymore. Its nice to know that this film has remained faithful to the legacy of Jim Braddock.