Directed by Ron Howard
Story by Cliff Hollingsworth
Screenplay by Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman
The team behind the very mediocre, factually inaccurate biography, A Beautiful Mind has reformed to tell the true-life tale of boxer Jim Braddock. After the distortions and mistruths that were represented as the life and psychotic delusions of mathematician John Nash, I was leery about this film; however, to my surprise and delight, they created an entertaining, uplifting film for all but the most hardened and cynical.
Cinderella Man is a combination of Rocky and Seabiscuit, although don’t be disappointed that there isn’t a boxing horse…hmmm, that gives me an idea, but I’ll deal with it elsewhere. Braddock’s story is the Great American Myth, which is why legendary sports writer Damon Runyan dubbed him Cinderella Man. Braddock stumbles and struggles both in the ring and in life, yet when presented with a second chance, he triumphs over the odds and becomes a success. This story has been told countless times because it reaffirms our hopes and dreams. Most people want to believe that a good, hard-working, family man will be rewarded. It keeps them from leaping out of windows
Braddock was an up-and-coming light heavyweight boxer in the late ‘20s, but he began to suffer injuries and losses. He became so bad in the ring that the N.Y. Boxing Commission revoked his license to fight. His downfall coincided with America’s: the Great Depression. The Stock Market crashed and there were hardly any jobs. Braddock got occasional work on the docks, though it wasn’t enough to pay the increasing bills. His wife considered sending the kids away to live with her family, but he wouldn’t stand for it.
Then a stroke of good luck finally happened. Braddock’s former manager, Joe Gould, came around because a fighter was needed at the last minute to save a boxing match from being cancelled. Braddock, who hadn’t fought or trained in almost a year, would be going up against, Corn Griffin, a heavyweight contender. Braddock wasn’t expected to go more than a few rounds to make a show of it. He quickly volunteered to earn the purse and to everyone’s surprise won the fight in the third round. This created other opportunities because Braddock was seen as a great story that would increase box office receipts, so he was placed in a tournament, in which the winner would fight the champion Max Baer, a ferocious boxer who killed a couple of men he fought. Braddock earned the title shot against Baer in Madison Square Garden.
I’m surprised it came out so early in the year. Something so positive and positively American would do well at the Oscars. Russell Crowe as Braddock and Paul Giamatti as Gould give their usual outstanding performances. Crowe is definitely one of today’s top leading men, but it is Giamatti, who, although he had a smaller role, subtlety displays a wider range of emotion. The design team creates an authentic vision of the Depression. Most importantly, Ron Howard and his team do a great job creating visually interesting boxing matches. We see a number of Braddock’s fights and a couple of Baer’s; all are compelling and different from each other. There was only one misstep when a fighter’s rib is cracked. An x-ray flash, a la C.S.I., allows us to see the injury happen. It didn’t match the film’s visuals style and wasn’t even the most important injury to take place.
My only complaint is there’s a minor storyline with Mike, a friend Braddock meets working at the docks, which could have been cut. Mike is seen getting drunk and abusive with his wife. He runs off to live in a shantytown that springs up in Central Park. He is there to show what could have happened to Braddock, but there’s not much to Mike for the audience to attach to, so it doesn’t work and the film slows down when dealing with him.
Since this was Braddock’s story, not much is done with Baer’s character other than make him the villain. To learn more about him, read this well-written article at Slate.