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Blu-ray Review: Cinderella Man (2005)

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Based on the events of real-life American legend James J. Braddock, Cinderella Man focuses on an out-of-work ex-prizefighter (Russell Crowe, doing what sounds like his best Rocky Balboa impersonation) who was forced to retire from the bloody world of sports due to a hand injury. Faced with unemployment at the worst possible time (the Great Depression), Braddock goes about his days looking for work both out of the ring and in it, determined to see to it that his loving wife (Renée Zellweger) and their children are provided for.

On the whole, Cinderella Man is a rather compelling piece. It sets out to tell you a story and it does so without boring you to tears or insulting your intelligence to no end. Director Ron Howard gives us a wonderful recreation of the late '20s and the Great Depression. Stars Crowe and Zellweger make for some truly moving performances, as do co-stars Paul Giamatti (who walked away with more nominations and wins worldwide for the film than Crowe did) and the great Craig Bierko, who, in one of the odder casting moments in cinema, plays another boxing legend, Max Baer.

It’s nearly unfathomable to accept the possibility that an untalented hack like Akiva Goldsman could have turned in a script that wasn’t complete and utter shit. In fact, the only foreseeable conclusion as to why Cinderella Man actually turned out good would be because somebody else already wrote it first. And somebody else did write it first: the real writer of Cinderella Man is Cliff Hollingsworth, a bright lad who penned the initial story and screenplay. Goldsman later re-wrote the script with his traditional “I haven’t an inkling of talent but they pay me anyway” method of taking extreme liberties, subsequently destroying the original work in the process.

All kidding aside (though not all of it was kidding, but I put it that way anyway since my lawyer advised me to), Cinderella Man succeeds, mostly thanks to Ron Howard. Once again, Opie proves that he has come a long way since his days on The Andy Griffith Show (or at least Willow). His solid, dramatic direction really helps the movie flow well — enough so that any well-read student of history might even be able to ignore all of Akiva Goldsman’s historical and biographical inaccuracies (such as Baer, who is completely misrepresented here as a sadistic giant when he in fact wasn’t).

Part of Universal’s Father’s Day Blu-ray promotion, Cinderella Man finally makes its debut on that other High Definition format that Universal once said “Pah!” to in a very good video transfer that preserves the film’s 2.35:1 widescreen ratio. In order to remind modern moviegoers that this movie takes place in our nation’s “Golden” era, the film has a rather “golden” tint to it. That said, the “gold” hue seems to makes some of the darker scenes look a little less-than-golden. Nevertheless, the image is very clear and the remaining colors are well-balanced. Three DTS 5.1 audio options are available for the main feature: English, French, and Spanish. Since I only speak one of those three languages fluently (there are many who would argue with me on that), I opted for the English one. Truth be told, it doesn’t fully deliver. Sure, Cinderella Man has some great boxing moments, but those are the only moments in which the DTS 5.1 mix really works — the rest of the movie’s audio is pretty much reserved for the front speakers. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are included.

Special features abound with this release, including three audio commentaries (Ron Howard, Akiva Goldsman, and Cliff Hollingsworth), deleted scenes, and a slew of featurettes and whatnot. Most of these bonus ditties have been issued on disc before, be it with the HD-DVD release or the Standard DVD issue. If the movie mowed you over and you hadn’t taken the time to see the extras before, you’ll keep yourself busy. The only odd eyebrow-raiser here for me was the decision to give the Blu-ray menu’s buttons a high-tech sound to them. For any other film, it might work. But for a piece set in the 1920s and 1930s, I say “nay.”

Regardless, Cinderella Man is probably the only good film to carry Akiva Goldsman’s name — and that’s saying something in itself.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.
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