When Ron Howard's Cinderella Man came out earlier this year, it was presented as an inspirational, feel-good story. I remember watching the trailers for the film, with the tagline that "when the nation was on its knees, he brought them to their feet," and thinking that it seemed as though they used almost the same marketing campaign for Seabiscuit. While the movie sounded intriguing, it wasn't enough to move me to the theater. However, with the film now available on DVD, I thought it would be worth a look. And I'm glad I did, because while Cinderella Man is your basic inspirational saga, it is also a pretty good movie along the way.
Russell Crowe plays James J. Braddock, a respected and talented young boxer whose career seemingly tracks the stock market crash and the country's entry into the Great Depression. A series of injuries slow him and he freefalls from his position as a likely contender for the championship. As his family strugges to keep the heat on and food on the table, Braddock fights hurt in an effort to get the money to pay his mounting bills. He breaks his already-broken hand in the ring, and is subsequently stripped of his boxing license and left to struggle for an occasional shift down on the docks.
The film deals with the challenge of maintaining one's pride in the face of mounting economic woes. At one point, Braddock is forced to beg his former boxing acquantances for enough money to pay the delinquent heating bill so that his kids don't have to be farmed out to relatives. Like many people during the Depression, Braddock also found himself going on "relief," the national program of assistance; as with many of the government programs of the period, it smacked of charity and was hard for him to accept. When his former manager comes to him with an offer - a one fight deal, as a stiff for some upcoming young contender to wipe the ring with - Braddock agrees. Not because he thinks he has a shot; simply because the guaranteed $250 payout will put more distance between his kids and the street.