I am not a big fan of boxing movies in general, nor of Russell Crowe in particular, so it’s really no surprise that I didn’t get around to watching the 2005 film Cinderella Man until just last night. Besides the two characteristics I just listed, Cinderella Man was also directed by Ron Howard, had a running time of over 2 hours, 20 minutes, and takes place during the 1930s — all elements that seemed to point to a boring movie. However, it’s based on a true story, and that’s what finally got to me in the end.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Crowe stars as James J. Braddock, a professional boxer from New Jersey who was on the brink of making it big. But then a couple of untimely injuries coupled with the crippling effects of the Great Depression sent Braddock into poverty and relative obscurity. He found himself having to line up in the hopes of getting picked to work on the docks just to keep his wife Mae (played by Renee Zellweger) and three kids clothed, fed, and sheltered.
Braddock still fought whenever possible, but the opportunities were few and far between (and the payouts were nowhere near what he was used to). At one of these fights, Braddock does so poorly because of a broken hand that the referee hands out a ruling of “no contest.” I guess that’s a big deal in boxing circles because Braddock had his pro license revoked after that, which meant he wouldn’t have this extra source of income anymore. As a result, he ends up going on public assistance and begging for money to keep his family together.
The rest of the movie then dealt with Braddock’s efforts to get his license back, and his eventual climb to the heavyweight title bout against Max Baer. If you know anything about boxing, then you know that the outcome of this fight is one of the most talked-about in pugilistic lore.
My Reaction: I was extremely surprised at how much I liked Cinderella Man. I thought Russell Crowe was fantastic in this movie, and believe that he’s the one that really made the whole thing work. Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Craig Bierko, Paddy Considine, and Bruce McGill also turned in good performances, but Crowe carried them all. I don’t know anything about the real James J. Braddock, so I can’t tell you if Crowe depicts the fighter accurately or not. Nevertheless, he was wonderful here.
I felt that the movie did drag in a few places and could have been about 20 minutes shorter. Moreover, I would have preferred it if some of the boxing scenes weren’t quite so graphic. But I do understand that it’s a brutal sport and that’s what Ron Howard was trying to depict, so I’ll give him a pass on that.
Overall, I’m giving Cinderella Man 4 stars out of 5 and recommend that you give it a try if you haven’t done so already!