February 14, 2006
Starring: Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Bruce McGill, Craig Bierko, Paddy Considine, Ron Canada, Nicholas Campbell, Connor Price, Ariel Waller, Patrick Louis, Clint Howard,
Cinderella Man (2005) had all the ingredients for a successful, prestigious crowd-pleaser: it’s a classic underdog story made by the Academy Award-winning team behind A Beautiful Mind (2001). And yet, despite all of this talent in front of and behind the camera, coupled with an aggressive marketing campaign, it failed to appeal to a mass audience. What happened? Were people tired of boxing movies after Million Dollar Baby (2004)? Did Russell Crowe’s phone throwing temper tantrum turn people off? Regardless, the film will hopefully enjoy a new lease on life now that it is being released on DVD for people to rediscover for themselves.
The movie chronicles the life and times of famous Irish boxer James J. Braddock (Crowe). In 1928, he was a successful, up-and-coming boxer angling for a title bout. He was a devoted family man who loved his wife, Mae (Zellweger) and their three kids. He hadn’t lost a fight and was pulling in decent money. Then, the Depression hit and by 1933 Braddock and his family were struggling to make ends meet.
Braddock still fights despite his losses but by this point he is a shadow of his former self – fighting hurt, sluggish technique and going up against opponents he would’ve whipped in his prime. To add insult to injury, he gets his license revoked. A year later, Braddock finally gets another chance, thanks to his savvy trainer, Joe (Giamatti), with a last minute fight that everyone expects him to lose. After all, he’s an old, washed-up fighter. But Braddock surprises everyone by winning and gradually begins climbing up the standings.
The actors are excellent, disappearing into their roles. Russell Crowe plays a variation of his defeated yet proud figure that he did so well in The Insider (1999). He plays a decent man with no colourful vices but is still able to avoid making him seem bland. Renee Zellweger strips away her usual acting tics for a refreshingly minimalist performance. There is a nice scene where she realizes that one of her children is deathly ill but doesn’t let on how upset she is and goes outside to cry. There is a genuine chemistry between her and Crowe and they play well off each other, keeping their performances rooted in reality.
As always, Paul Giamatti is excellent and brings a great intensity to his role. Joe is a shrewd man who knows how to fast talk his way into getting Braddock more fights. Giamatti is able to find little nuances to flesh out his character and does a fine job supporting Crowe.
This is a great looking film with flawless attention to period detail so that we are fully immersed in this world and period in time. Cinematographer Salvatore Totino adheres to a colour scheme that consists of black and chocolate browns and gives the skin tones a warm glow that is very engaging even while conveying the depths of the Depression and the hard times these people were going through. Director Ron Howard wisely does not try to reinvent the wheel with the fight sequences. After Raging Bull (1980) and Ali (2001) what’s the point? Instead, he takes the best elements from those movies and fuses them into an exciting style. Crowe brings his considerable physical presence to the role much like Marlon Brando did during his On the Waterfront (1954) period. Crowe plays a very credible fighter and not just how he looks but in the way he carries himself and moves in the ring.
As he proved with Apollo 13 (1995), Howard is able to create tension and drama from a real event whose outcome is already known. In this case, it’s Braddock climatic fight against a man who is younger, faster and stronger. It looks like he won’t walk away from the ring alive and Howard uses every cinematic technique he can think of to create credible tension as every minute passes. It is easy to get caught up in this compelling bout and forget what actually happened. You are swept up in the drama of the moment.
Howard shows a deft touch and doesn’t try to be too obvious in manipulating our emotions. He conveys the tough times that Braddock and his family go through without laying it on thick like the relentlessly bleak Angela’s Ashes (1999). The movie also shows the dehumanizing effects of the Depression on America, underlining the great divide between rich and poor. Cinderella Man does a good job of conveying how Braddock was a product of his times, a hero of the working man who never forgot where he came from. It does tend to lay it a bit thick during the final fight but for the 3/4 of the film, Howard and company hit all the right notes.
The DVD is loaded with extras, including three separate audio commentaries, one with director Ron Howard, one with co-screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and one with co-screenwriter Cliff Hollingsworth.
Also included are 21 minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary by Howard. From there, two features explore the filmmaking process, including casting (“The Fight Card”) and the production itself (“The Man, The Movie, The Legend: A Filmmaking Journey).
There are also historical featurettes that provide a brief history of the sport of boxing and on Braddock’s family and friends.
The Gift Set a collection of extras not found on the other version and provides additional insight into the filmmaking process with additional deleted scenes, a featurette on Crowe’s preparation for the role, the cinematography, music and how the fight scenes were put together.