It’s so hard to look at Cinderella Man and not make the comparison to Rocky. Actually, any boxing film is going to draw that comparison, along with Raging Bull. Cinderella Man stands out though since it’s based on a true story to give it some weight.
It’s helped along by Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger, both putting forth fantastic performances. The story now seems typical of a Hollywood sports film, with a lead character that is down on his luck and gets that one chance to make it big. It’s predictable and the boxing scenes are too over-the-top (how many punches can one man take?), but it’s a drama more than a boxing film.
Given the dire situation, Crowe’s character based on the life of James Braddock, goes through a wide variety of emotions. His once proud up and coming stature destroyed by the great depression, and forced to beg just to put a meal on the table. It creates numerous moments of dramatic tension as his family tries to hold together. Outside of them, Paul Giamatti gives us another incredible performance, certainly one worthy of a best supporting actor award.
It also helps work the emotional story arc to a point where the audience is involved in that final boxing match even if they know the outcome. It’s a classic underdog story that is made fresh and exciting. It runs near the 150-minute mark, and that’s definitely taking too much time to tell the story. There are countless shots of people walking to a destination that never seem to end, and it grows old quickly.
Beyond that, this is a fine piece of filmmaking, and certainly one that deserved a better box office (it lost a little under $20 million). You can expect to see it come award time, and a few wins in multiple categories. It’s great film, even for a family. The PG-13 the MPAA slapped on it is harsh. (**** out of *****)
This widescreen 2.35:1 transfer is a disappointment. Darker scenes, of which there are many, have a grainy, muddy quality. It’s caused by inconsistent black levels. They’re all over the place, and end up affecting the color and detail too. Brighter scenes perform fine. It’s an otherwise sharp, easy on the eyes transfer even with a relatively non-DVD friendly color scale used to set the film in time period. (***)
The 5.1 audio provides a nice, immersive sound field. People at ringside provide plenty of ambient noise as the fights move on. You’ll hear quite a bit from the surrounds. Bass is subdued, so even if the in-ring action goes a little overboard, the connecting punches don’t provide a ridiculous amount of bass. You’ll only hear enough to know a shot has landed. (****)
Extras are plentiful on this double-sided DVD. The movie comes with three separate solo commentaries. It’s becoming increasingly common and annoyingly so given that each track is somewhat quiet. Why not just put everyone in a single commentary, especially given how long the film is? Ron Howard is the only recognizable name, the other two going to the writers.
From there, you’ll flip the disc into a set of features that have a sense of familiarity to them. The deleted scenes are definitely of interest as Ron Howard offers his thoughts on what was cut. There’s an extended opening that was wisely trimmed, and plenty of scenes showing the depression that ended up pushing the drama too far. There are seven in all and run for 20-minutes.
Fight Card: Casting Cinderella Man is what it says, explaining the characters while everyone is praised for their work. That carries over into The Man, the Movie, The Legend which is a basic, dull making-of piece. At 13 minutes, the enthusiastic crew becomes repetitive with their compliments. For the Record: A History in Boxing is apparently supposed to be a boxing history feature, and instead talks about Crowe’s training and weight loss for the role. That doesn’t make any sense.
Ringside Seats is a great feature, sadly cut short. It’s the actual fight featured in the film along with discussion from those who made the film. They skip over 80% of the rounds and only show in full three of them. The remarkable quality of the video (given it’s from the early 1930s) isn’t enough to make up for missing so much of this 15 round battle.
Jim Braddock: The Family and Friends Behind the Legend is the final gasp for this disc, showcasing those related Braddock. There’s also archival video and audio from Braddock himself. It would have been nice to hear their thoughts on the film, but they discuss the person, which is obviously more important. It’s the most informative feature, and runs eleven minutes. The final extra is a shameless two-minute commercial for Kodak that’s passed off as a picture gallery. (***)
It’s bad enough the studio expects audiences to watch the film three times just to hear everything, but then they don’t supply the stars of the film either. That’s not right, and fans should have every right to be disappointed or complain. It’s great film, but there’s no excuse to provide awful extras.