Cinderella Man tells the heartwarming true story of heavyweight fighter James J. Braddock, a man thought to be washed-up, who rises from the ranks of the forgotten to rebuild the life and potential he lost somewhere along the way. It’s also one of Ron Howard’s finest films, and with a body of work which includes Backdraft, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Far and Away, and Ransom, this is a fine accomplishment. Unfortunately, this film’s success never rose to the level anyone ant…cipated, and there’s nothing worse than when a well-crafted piece such as this falls victim to bad press — especially when said bad press has almost nothing to do with the film. Firstly, Cinderella Man suffered from the now famous idiotic outburst of its star Russell Crowe. Secondly, there was the debacle over Howard’s portrayal of Max Baer, and how that portrayal affected and offended Baer’s still-living son (the former Jethro Bodine of TV’s Beverly Hillbillies, and successful film producer). Finally — and perhaps most important of all — was the lackluster marketing campaign, which made the film look so dull even I was ready to wait for the video. These three factors added together to cause the film an almost embarrassing performance for all there was to recommend it (two Oscar winners in the starring roles, an Oscar winner behind the camera, another Oscar contender in a supporting role — Paul Giamatti — and perhaps one of the most inspirational tales in American history).
At one time, James Braddock was a contender. He had the world on a string, a woman who loved him, and several adoring children. But somewhere along the way — an injury here, a few decision losses there — his career and his world took a nosedive. After injuring his hand and coasting through a boring fight, he loses his boxing license, and consequently, his meal ticket. At one point, the sky was the limit. But now, left to a dark and desperate world, he struggles to keep the heat on during a brutally encroaching New York winter. He’s forced to send his children away just to save their lives from the harsh weather. And at his lowest point, he succumbs to the very thing he stands against — welfare. After finding himself all but forced to sign up for social assistance, he becomes determined to turn it all around. All he needs is the opportunity, which comes in a supposedly one-time shot against a top heavyweight contender. No one expects Braddock to win, but when he does, it sets in motion a chain of events, which position him into a very real chance for a shot at the deadly world heavyweight champion Max Baer, who was responsible for the deaths of more than one man in his storied career. Whether Braddock becomes one of those victims, I will leave for the uninitiated to discover. But the enjoyment of Cinderella Man depends not on winning or losing, but on the inspiration of Braddock’s overwhelming comeback. He rose from the proverbial canvas at the same time as a nation did, and it’s not entirely implausible that he lended a hand — however small — in getting this country back on its feet.
Howard does a fine job recreating Depression-era America, and the hopelessness Braddock must face before life offers him another shot will make you feel as though you’re right there with him on the brink of despair. Crowe also gives a subdued enough performance to make you forget he is Russell Crowe, the call-your-shots, pseudo-tough-guy actor, long enough to believe you’re watching a decent human being torn by the ravages of life instead of an arrogant clown with an inflated sense of his own rugged masculinity and self-worth. Once you get on board with the characters, Cinderella Man steals your emotions and doesn’t let them go until the ending credits. If you haven’t read the book on which this film is based, do so. You’ll be surprised at how many real events seem to be the overblown creation of Hollywood at its most dramatic. The fact Howard is being true to the source material — a.k.a. “real life” — elevates this film from being a ridiculous Rocky knock-off… or worse yet, a sixth installment of the series… to a powerful experience which will hang with you long after the final bell.
I have read about some complaints regarding the DVD’s compatibility… or the lack thereof… with some players. I cannot speak intelligently on this topic as my Sony had no problems. The picture is pristine and seems a little brighter than it did in theaters, which is always a welcome addition. The blacks are deep and rich and hint at a film far more depressing than it actually is. Of course, when Braddock picks his life up, this subtle touch adds to the glory of what he pushes himself to become. The anamorphic widescreen presentation is provided for us in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Overall, this is a glorious picture where grain and artifacts are hard to detect. A definite improvement from the theatrical experience.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presentation is available in both English and French tracks. I found most of the film’s sound requirements to be less demanding than most A-list films of today, although it does get a nice workout in the film’s fight scenes. When the soundtrack is required to be more dynamic, it rises to the occasion. Bass and dialogue levels come through with little need for volume adjustment and produce a balanced overall presentation. Nicely done.
Where to begin? This two-disc set contains the following materials: two feature commentary tracks featuring director Ron Howard and screenwriters Akiva Goldsman and Cliff Hollingsworth, deleted scenes with Howard commentary, The Fight Card: Casting Cinderella Man, The Man, The Movie, The Legend: A Filmmaking Journey, For the Record: A History in Boxing, Ringside Seats, Jim Braddock: The Friends and Family Behind the Legend, and DVD-ROM materials… and that’s just the first disc!
The second includes the following: additional deleted scenes with commentary, Russell Crowe’s Personal Journey: Becoming Jim Braddock, Focus on Script, Creating the Reality, Russell’s Transformation, Inflatable People, Lights, Camera, Action: The Fight from Every Angle, Braddock vs. Baer Fight Footage, Photo Montage, The Sound of the Bell, Cinderella Man: Music Featurette, and The Human Face of Depression.
In other words, loads of commentary, featurettes, and galleries that will take you far beyond the movie into history itself. Topping all these goodies off are the commemorative book and photo cards exclusive to this collector’s edition release. The trouble Universal has gone to is awe-inspiring, and doubly shocking considering how the film sort of failed to deliver at the box office. But don’t get any wrong ideas… this feature-packed edition is only a small portion of what Cinderella Man deserves… and probably the only respect it will garner with the Academy Awards approaching.
While the one-disc is certainly cheaper, the two-disc is sure to give you your money’s worth. Best of all, you can stop complaining… at least for two and a half all too short hours… that Hollywood has nothing good to offer. How sad is it that this, one of only a handful of good films they gave us in the first two-thirds of the year, fell on its face at the box office? It’s almost as if the same complaining moviegoing public shot itself in the foot by not giving this film a chance. By patronizing Fantastic Four instead of small, quality motion pictures such as this, we encouraged the studios to keep feeding us crap. But at least Cinderella Man gets a second shot on DVD. And hopefully, this time, it will find a larger audience.
Special Features List
- Feature Commentary with Director Ron Howard Feature Commentary with Writer Akiva Goldsman
- Feature Commentary with Writer Cliff Hollingsworth
- Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Director Ron Howard
- The Fight Card: Casting Cinderella Man
- The Man, The Movie, The Legend: A Filmmaking Journey
- For the Record: A History in Boxing
- Ringside Seats
- Jim Braddock: The Friends & Family Behind the Legend
- Kodak Cinderella Man
- DVD-ROM Features
- 2nd disc of bonus material exclusive to CE, plus commemorative booklet and photo cards