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Return to 2006 Films

Index of 2006

An Inconvenient Truth
Big Bad Swim
Brokeback Mountain
Cinderella Man
The Departed
The DaVinci Code
Eron: The Smartest
Guys in the Room

Good Night and
Good Luck

Half Nelson
History of Violence
Hotel Rwanda
Little Miss Sunshine
Journey from the Fall
March of the Penguins
Million Dollar Baby
Prairie Home Companion
Star Wars III:
Revenge of the Sith

Thank You for Smoking
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Sea Inside
United 93
War of the Worlds
Walk the Line
World Trade Center

Cinderella Man

A Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)


Russell Crowe reunites with 'A Beautiful Mind' director Ron Howard in this story inspired by the life of legendary athlete Jim Braddock, a once-promising light heavyweight boxer forced into retirement after a string of losses in the ring. As the nation enters the darkest years of the Great Depression, Braddock accepts a string of dead-end jobs to support his wife, Mae (Renée Zellweger), and their children, while
never totally abandoning his dream of boxing again.

Three years ago, producer Brian Grazer, director Ron Howard, writer Akiva Goldsman, and actor Russell Crowe collaborated on the Oscar winning film, A Beautiful Mind. They are back with the current film, Cinderella Man, the story of Depression-era boxer James Braddock. Like their previous collaboration, Cinderella is dramatically compelling, well acted, handsome period picture. In addition to Crowe in the lead, the excellent cast includes Renee Zellweger as Mae, Braddock’s understanding wife, Paul Giamatti (so good in last year’s Sideways) as manager Joe Gould, and Craig Beirko as the heavyweight champion Max Baer.

The film opens in 1928. Jim, a top contender for the title, wins his bout at Madison Square Garden, and comes home to the family’s attractive New Jersey house. Everything is looking up. Then the Depression hits. It’s 1933 when the story resumes. The Braddocks are struggling in a tiny basement apartment. After a couple of bad fights, and a broken hand, Jim has fallen so low in the boxing ranks that he can only get an occasional fight in a rundown club. After a poor performance in the ring, the boxing commission even strips Jim of his license. Braddock must work on the docks, and even has to accept welfare to feed his family and keep the lights on. The children are sick, and Mae considers letting them stay with relatives temporarily until things get better. At this point, Jim goes back to the boxing commissioners in New York, literally begging for a handout.

When it looks as though Jim will never fight again, Gould is able to arrange a one-time, last minute match with a title contender when the scheduled opponent is forced to withdraw. Miraculously, Jim is victorious, once again finding the courage and tenacity of his glory years. Jim begins to believe in himself again, and starts to win against top opponents, and soon earns a title shot against the arrogant, brutal Baer in 1935.

The story is rather formulaic. Likeable, spirited underdog against the rich, nasty champ. We’ve seen it all before. The Depression-era setting and theme that Braddock wasn’t fighting for himself, but for all the down and out people who identified with him, reminded me of Seabiscuit. Braddock’s pastor even turns on a radio in his parish church where people have turned out to pray for him.

At this point, I wondered if the creative film makers were laying it on too much. Was Braddock too good to be true? Even in the worst of times, he’s never less than virtuous. Perhaps a look at the years when he fell from the ranks would have shown us a darker side to him. ( I didn’t fully understand the reason for his fall.) On the other hand, was Baer really as bad as he was portrayed? His son Max, Jr., (he played Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies) has protested about his father’s depiction. We hear repeatedly that Baer killed two men in the ring. Is the audience being set up for the big “hero/villain” main event?

Since I’m not familiar with boxing history, So I will take the movie on its own merits. What lifts Cinderella Man above its formula are the fine performances (Giamatti nearly steals the picture as the emotional manager), and its rich attention to period detail. In its way, Cinderella Man takes us back to a more innocent time, long before we had been jaded by all the scandals of recent years. On a hot summer day, that’s a nice place to be.

Tom Condon, O.P

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