The time of the Great Depression in the United States has been used previously for films that show the triumph of the human spirit despite trying conditions and this film is no exception. Cinderella Man is a movie based on the life of James J. Braddock, an Irish American who lifted the spirits of an entire nation at a time when their spirits really needed to be lifted. Using Toronto to recreate Depression-era New York city and New Jersey, Ron Howard has made a film that gives us a taste of what life was like for Americans during the 1930s.
The picture begins in the year 1933, which is 4 years into the Depression in the United States. Light heavyweight fighter James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe) is having trouble supporting his family. The family lives in a very poor section of New Jersey and is just making ends meet. He is forced to fight for peanuts and there is very few men picked everyday to do shift work at the docks. The Braddocks do not even have enough money to buy milk for their three young children. After a particularly bad fight, in which Braddock fought even though he was suffering from a broken hand, his license to box is revoked. Braddock tries to pick up some shifts at the docks but this proves to be very difficult due to his broken hand. Without boxing to bring in some extra money, the Braddocks cannot pay their overdue electrical bill and their electricity is turned off. It is winter and their apartment is very cold. The middle child, Howard (Patrick Louis), begins to get sick and James’s wife, Mae Braddock (Renee Zellweger), sends the two boys to live with her father and the girl to live with her sister. James is very upset with her because he had previously promised his eldest son, Jay (Canadian Connor Price – Men With Brooms), that he would never send the kids away. Braddock is desperate for money so he swallows his pride and goes to Madison Square Garden to ask all the boxing bigwigs for some money. The electricity is turned back on and the kids come back to live with him.
Braddock’s manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti – Sideways and American Splendor), approaches with the offer of one more fight. They need someone to step in at the last moment to fight the number two contender. They have offered Braddock $250 for the fight. As he is desperate, Braddock agrees. Against all odds, Braddock wins the fight. Gould tells Braddock he can get him his license back and another fight. The only catch is that Braddock would have to stop taking shifts at the docks and start training full time. Mae is not happy, but Braddock agrees. Despite his age, Braddock defeats all the contenders for the light heavyweight belt. His next fight will be against Max Baer (Craig Bierko – The Thirteenth Floor and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), the reigning light heavyweight champion. Mae is worried for Braddock because Max Baer has killed two previous opponents. Braddock decides to seize his opportunity and fight Baer despite the risks.
Cinderella Man is not anything that we have not seen before. The underdog, who is embraced by the American public, fights against all odds to be successful in their chosen sport. You could say that Cinderella Man is this year’s Seabiscuit. The acting by Crowe, Zellweger, and Giamatti is all above average and we already know that Ron Howard is a very capable director. The boxing scenes in Cinderella Man are some of the most realistic depictions of boxing ever put on film. The camera angles are so tight that every punch that is landed is felt by the viewer. Despite the fact that the movie is slow in parts, this “boxing” movie also works because it is not only about boxing but about the human condition. The sport of boxing is used as a metaphor for the Depression, the mentality of the American people at that time and James Braddock’s struggle to keep his family fed and together.
-Deleted and Extended Scenes
-Becoming Jim Braddock
-The Fight Card
-Lights, Cameria, Action
-For the Record
-The Man, the Movie, the Legend
-The Sound of the Bell
-The Human Face of Depression
-Braddock vs. Baer