Review by Gordon Justesen
Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Craig Bierko, Bruce McGill, Paddy
Director: Ron Howard
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 145 Minutes
Release Date: December 6, 2005
GOTTA BEAT THIS! YOU GOTTA BEAT IT FROM THE INSIDE OUT!!”
When a single film
can enthrall you in spite of the viewer pretty much knowing the outcome of the
story, it’s still a strong achievement. Ron Howard made just such a film with Cinderella
Man, a mesmerizing underdog tale that may just be the director’s finest
work today. What it proves is that he and Russell Crowe pack a mighty punch in
any film project.
Say what you want
about Crowe, he is an accomplished actor who can transform into any character
given to him. Just like Jeffery Wigand in The
Insider and John Nash in A Beautiful
Mind, his transformation into Depression-era boxer James Braddock is a
remarkable piece of acting. Crowe has gone through one of the most amazing
physical transformations in recent memory.
The story opens
with Braddock experiencing success as a lightweight boxer in the late 20s. After
a number of wins, his streak hits some severe bumps. He breaks his right hand,
makes a few bad investments and his family become victim to the Great
Depression. Before long, his boxing license has been stripped and the
availability of work at the docks is incredibly low.
One of the amazing
portions of the story shows Braddock as a committed family man. Taking care of
his wife, Mae (Renee Zellweger), and three children is priority number one, no
matter how bad things get. In one scene, Braddock teaches the importance of not
stealing to his young son, who has just stolen some food from a store. It’s
simply beautiful to see a male role model, experiencing very bad circumstances,
still have the heart to teach his children right from wrong without a slight
hint of anger in his bones.
In addition, the
Depression-era and its brutal effects have never felt more authentic. Not since
the work of Steinbeck as a single story made me feel the effect of just how bad
times were in this country. I could never imagine hoping to get work by going to
a dock every single day and praying that I would get selected for a wage way
lower than I’m making now.
But then something
unexpected happens. Braddock’s loyal former manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti,
in a great supporting role that almost surpasses his great work in Sideways),
comes to him with a once in a lifetime offer; a return to the ring. The prize of
the fight is a mere $250, but for that kind of money, a joyous Braddock tells
Gould, “I’ll fight your wife and grandmother for that.”
It’s this return
to the ring that will earn Braddock the prestigious title of the “Cinderella
Man”. Through a left-hook that surprises even Gould, Braddock defeats the
number 2 contender, and is immediately labeled as an inspiration for the many
Americans who are down on their luck as a result of the Depression. For these
troubling times, Braddock is considered a true hero.
Following a string
of successful fights, Braddock is tempted to challenge the current heavyweight
champion, Max Baer (Craig Bierko). While it would make for an astonishing upset,
it seems downright impossible. It also frightens his family to see him go up
against a man who has killed two men in the ring.
There have been so
many boxing films since the inception of Rocky
and Raging Bull, which are still
the classics. And there’s been even more films about underdog contenders climb
to the top. Could a movie like Cinderella
Man be just as effective at this point in time?
The answer is most
certainly yes. The movie is equal in every way to Rocky. The fact that this happens to be an entirely true story helps
in such qualifications.
With this film, Ron
Howard continues to demonstrate his remarkable talent as a director of such
large-scale productions. He stages the boxing scenes with an outstanding level
of authenticity and brutality that you will definitely feel each and every
punch. And the climatic fight between Braddock and Baer is a show-stopping
sequence that will have you gripping the edge of your seat.
If you’re looking
for a movie to move and inspire you, then Cinderella
Man is the movie to see. As far as boxing movies go, it’s one of the best
contenders around. Credit Russell Crowe’s dedicated physical transformation
and amazing performance, along with Ron Howard’s immensely focused vision for
making a most gripping cinematic experience.
anamorphic transfer of this wonderfully photographed film is nothing short of
spectacular. The images are as sharp and clear as can be. There is not a single
image flaw in sight, as both light and dark shots are rendered terrifically. The
presentation, as a whole, offers endless and amazing detail. Available in both
widescreen and full screen, but you’ll definitely want to stick with the first
of the two.
The 5.1 mix helps
in packing a little extra punch into this biographical drama. The boxing scenes
are indeed the best part of the presentation, as you may be ducking the many
punches thrown. Thomas Newman’s score is another highpoint. Dialogue delivery
is terrifically clear as can be. This is one sound presentation that does help
in capturing the authentic feel of the movie.
For this release (a
2-Disc Collector’s Edition is also available, at a higher price), Universal
has come through just fine with the bonuses. Included are two commentary tracks;
one with Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, the second with
screenwriter Cliff Hollingsworth. Also featured are Deleted Scenes with
Commentary, “The Fight Card: Casting Cinderella Man” Featurette, “The Man,
The Movie, The Legend: A Filmmaking Journey” Featurette, “For the Record: A
History in Boxing” Documentary”, “Ringside Seats”, which offers
commentary over an actual Braddock fight, “Jim Braddock: The Friends &
Family Behind the Legend” documentary, a Kodak photo gallery and DVD-ROM