Are we that jaded a country when a movie like Cinderella Man can be somewhat ignored during its theatrical run, and yet when it still garners the occasional award nomination as it did last winter, people snort, “Well, it’s just your usual manipulative dramatic crap”. Yeah? So what? For god’s sake, take a look at what plays during the summer. Did we honestly need a remake of When a Stranger Calls?
Written by Akiva Goldsman and directed by Ron Howard (both from A Beautiful Mind), Cinderella Man tells the story of James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe, also from A Beautiful Mind, heavyweight champion in the ’20s and ’30s. He was on top of the world, married to a beautiful wife (Renee Zellweger, Chicago), and had two kids, and lived in a nice house in New Jersey. Then the Depression hit, and it hit everyone hard. Braddock and his family were forced out of their home and lived in poverty. Braddock still fought occasionally through the years, but began to break down physically, and it got to a point where his skills had deteriorated so much, that his boxing license was taken away. He was left without the basic means to support his family, so he went to the docks to look for work. A proud man, he never asked for money or for public assistance. When he did, it’s viscerally heartbreaking to see such a stoic man break down and ask for a hand.
Braddock’s manager Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti, Sideways) has worked with the fighter for years, and cares for him however he can. He manages to land him a fight where surprisingly, he manages to beat a young, up and coming fighter. Gould, sensing some potential for a comeback, gradually books more and more fights, until Braddock is fortunate enough to land a title match against the brutal champion Max Baer (Craig Bierko, Fear and Loathing in Last Vegas).
Howard does excellent, emotionally affecting jobs with works based on true stories like A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13, and here, the story really is tailor made for him to do his best, and with the cast that he has at his beck and call, they are all proven to knock it out of the park. The story may move you to tears at times, or root for what may be the predictable ending, but look at history for God’s sake! It’s not like you don’t know what’s going to happen when you go in, it’s the journey of getting there that’s the good part.
The Dolby Digital Plus love is a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek, as the sound is pretty strong and all-enveloping, particularly during the boxing scenes. There’s some inaction during some stretches of the film, so that’s a little bit of a waste, but at what price do you want a nice sounding DVD?
The only other time I’d seen Cinderella Man was as a screener copy some months ago, so I was looking forward to seeing the HD version of this. While it’s an upgrade over what I’d seen before, the image doesn’t appear to be as sharp as other HD-DVD releases have been. It’s clear, it’s vivid, but there’s a bit of depth that’s lacking that I was accustomed to seeing.
The good news is the two-disc edition of the film, which was laid out over 2 discs of standard definition stuff, is all on one disc for the world to marvel at. There are one, two, three commentary tracks, ha ha ha! The problem is that they are all individual tracks, and probably could have been edited together as one in order to free up some space on the original transfer and spruce the picture up. You’ve got Howard, Goldman and writer Cliff Hollingsworth, waxing about all things Man-ish, so to speak. Howard is the most dynamic of the three, but it absolutely would have been better for him if he played off someone.
Up next are 35 minutes of deleted scenes with commentary by Howard, and there are a couple in here that I think should have cemented an Oscar win for Giamatti, but what do I know? Following a couple of small featurettes looking at the making of the film and the casting of the main characters, we switch over to the boxing-themed supplements, as technical advisor (and legendary boxing trainer) Angelo Dundee talks about how good a boxer Crowe could have been (hold your jokes for later), and Howard, Goldsman and Howard producer Brian Grazer all watch the original Braddock-Baer fight with author (and boxing enthusiast) Norman Mailer. While this is truncated, the entire original fight is also included as an extra. Braddock’s youngest son Howard provides some recollections about his father and compares how those events are portrayed in the film.
The interesting extra of the bunch is a video journal that Crowe put together documenting his preparations for the role and the film, and watching him box with various people. He suffered a shoulder separation during his sparring and it’s here, warts and all. All in all, while some of this kinda borders as being a bit pretentious, it’s still a little fascinating to watch. An examination of the fight’s cinematography follows, and various additional looks at the film’s production are next. There’s a pretty good look at the Depression that includes some recollections by Howard about what his father went through, which is tangible in the sense that Howard’s daughter starred in the Depression-era pic Manderlay, but it also helps to provide some perspective on the period.
Stop being a friggin’ grouch and go rent Cinderella Man if you haven’t already. As a film it’s excellent, as a two disc DVD it’s pretty solid, but as a HD DVD, there’s still a little left to improve on when it comes to fully watching and enjoying the picture.