- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Matt Saha
ust a few short Hollywood years ago, boxing films had a tough time getting the green light. Boxing fans and cineastes in general have had a banner year – right on the heels of the wonderful Academy Award winning “Million Dollar Baby,” director Ron Howard has given us “Cinderella Man.” The film tells the true story of James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe), a light heavyweight with brilliant promise in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Crowe, along with Renee Zellweger as his wife Mae and Paul Giamatti as his trainer Joe Gould, form a dynamic onscreen trio. They play their parts with nuance and heart, and seem to genuinely like each other and their jobs at hand. Crowe goes against type in rendering Braddock as a man full of humility and generosity.
At the film’s outset, we see Braddock on his way to big paydays, but the Great Depression hits and his savings are wiped out. His career also falters when his right hand begins to break every time he enters the ring. Braddock is forced to work the docks of New Jersey’s ports, but can barely make enough to keep his family together. The film is as much about the Depression as it is boxing, and Ron Howard takes a page from Frank Capra in showing the dignity in these tough and trying times. Men and women help each other, as well as their brothers and sisters, and there isn’t an evil or villainous character in the entire film – the times and circumstances are test enough.
Braddock ultimately makes his way back into the ring and a championship bout with heavyweight champ Max Baer. Baer is a ferocious Hollywood dandy and is wonderfully portrayed by Craig Bierko. (When did Bierko get so physically large?) Baer seemed invincible at the time, having killed two men in the ring, and Howard builds such suspense in each fight that even though the end is known, the telling is masterful.
Damon Runyon, the great raconteur, coined the term Cinderella Man for Braddock. The whole country rallied behind Braddock, a broken fighter on the welfare rolls who gets a second chance. The people saw themselves in him. It is a story that deserves to be told and it is a story that Howard, Crowe, Giamatti, Zellweger, Bierko and the rest of the cast and crew tell so well.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
There have been quite a few debates lately about whether or not movie studios owe it to the consumer to include additional bonus material on Blu-ray catalog reissues, but it’s hard to imagine Universal adding anything to “Cinderella Man” that didn’t already appear on the Collector’s Edition DVD. Featuring three separate audio commentaries with director Ron Howard, co-writer Akiva Goldsman, and co-writer Cliff Hollingsworth, the single-disc release also includes a nice selection of deleted scenes, a casting featurette (“The Fight Card”), and a short profile on legendary trainer and film consultant Angelo Dundee (“The Record: The History of Boxing”). There are also some really great production featurettes, like the four-part production diary, “Pre-Fight Preparations,” a behind-the-scenes look at Russell Crowe’s physical transformation into Braddock (“Personal Journey”), and a cool featurette on the multi-angle filming of the movie's boxing sequences (“Lights, Camera, Action”). Rounding out the set is another production featurette (“The Man, the Movie, the Legend”), a look back at the Max Baer fight with crew commentary (“Ringside Seats”), and a short piece (“The Friends & Family Behind the Legend”) on the Braddock family’s reaction to the making of the film.