History in Films: Cinderella Man

Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man (2005) starring Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger and Paul Giamatti creates an accurate historical climate of the U.S. Depression from the 1930s while telling the amazing story of James R. Braddock, the Bulldog of Bergen, the pride of New Jersey, the hero to his kids and the champion of his wife’s heart. Too sentimental, too contrived, too romantic to believe?

The Cinematography

The use of lights give strength to the palette of the film.

The flash of a reporter’s camera, the bulb humming behind the radio box and the  x-ray shots to show when Jimmy Braddock is hit in the ribs makes you feel the punch. The snapping of the lights allows the camera to freeze-frame the hit and allow the reaction of it to sink in. It’s a nice contrast to the swinging, fast-paced camera action in the ring during fights.

My favorite cinegraphic shot of the film, hats off to Ron Howard, for showing the MSG bowl with the NYC skyline above the ring.

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The Madison Square Garden Bowl located in Queens was constructed in 1935 and demolished in 1945. It was an outdoor venue for prize-fight boxing matches like the comeback champ, James Braddock vs. Max Baer on June 15, 1935.

I really liked the National Geographic documentary about the real Jimmy Braddock. If you want more of the man behind the movie try this:

The Radio

In sports films, a common ploy is to have an announcer commentating on the action, summing up, reviewing, and forecasting events. I find the technique mundane; it drops the realism of the narrative down a few notches for me. It’s that cardinal rule in writing–show don’t tell. However, I’m willing to forgive Ron Howard in this film because the radio and the radio announcer’s voice and inflection were perfect as a depression era prop. The radio glued American society together as a national identity. Here was the source for entertainment and news.

In the film, the children huddle on cellar steps to hear the broadcast of the fight; the priest sets up his radio on the altar for the congregation to listen to the fight. Believe it or not, that scene was a realistic gesture on the part of the parish priest who communed with his parishioners and shared the luxury item with those less fortunate during the depression. Another nice touch–Mae was always frying up the bologna to eat. A common food staple.

Paul Giamatti as the energetic second and manager, Joe Gould, was nominated for an Oscar for his supporting role. He swings from soft and tender to fiery and bombastic all the while, sympathizing and oozing fraternal love.

Craig Bierko who plays Max Baer (Max Baer’s son, Jr., was the actor who played Jethro on the Beverly Hillbillies) was perfect in the role as the swaggering star too concerned with his own persona as heavyweight champ than to worry about a fight with the washed up old man, Jimmy Braddock.

Underdog stories are a sure-fire way to pull on the heartstrings. This one is better than most because it reinforces the love for family and the love for one’s mate. Without Mae’s support, played convincingly by Renée Zellweger, Braddock’s world tumbles. Braddock is not just a fighter from New Jersey, he is a hero who represented the Hoover notion, the psychology of “Rugged Individualism”. Work hard and stay determined and you shall overcome. You know the adage, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The Depression wiped out life savings overnight delivering sucker punches to millions.

Braddock would rather fight back adversity in the ring where he can see what he’s up against. Lines for the soup kitchens, lines for relief money, mustering pennies to pay the electric bill to keep the kids warm, scrambling for a shift to work–all fears and challenges of one-quarter of the U.S. population during the Depression from 1929 to our entrance into WWII.

The story of James Braddock is too good to be true. The themes of family and love and perseverance makes it a great feel-good film. The best part about this film? James Braddock was really that guy portrayed by Russell Crowe. A man of integrity, devoted to family and community, hard-working, loyal, and after his stint with boxing, started his own longshoremen company, bought a house with Mae and lived out the rest of their lives together in it. He served in WWII honorably and everyone loved him. It’s a swell movie showcasing a swell guy. I never tire watching it.

20 thoughts on “History in Films: Cinderella Man

Add yours

  1. Good stuff here! I really like this film but I’m a huge Russell Crowe fan too. It truly is a wonderful story and its worth telling. Haven’t watched this in a few years but I know I always enjoy seeing it.

    1. Hiya James. Oh, you should. I’d be interested in your thoughts. The cinematography is sound. The script a little sappy, but the story line and accuracy of the history is spot on. 🙂

  2. I can’t offer any excuse for not having seen Cinderella Man because I’ve been a boxing fan as long as I can remember, and I’ve always enjoyed learning about the history of “The Noble Art” whether in books, archive footage, or on the cinema screen. I usually find the stories surrounding the boxers are more interesting than the fights they took part in, and this film sounds like a case in point.
    The film blogging fraternity seem to enjoy beating up Ron Howard, if you’ll pardon the pun, so it’s very refreshing to read someone praising his work. I’ll try and get hold of this film and get back to you when I’ve watched it.
    Have a nice weekend.

    1. Hi Paul! Poor Ron. He’s my guilty pleasure. I can see what he tries to do–he really wants to the crowd to respond to a story. I think as a director and cinematography and his attention to detail is superior. Where he loses respect, I feel, are his scripts–no smart dialogue to be found–often contrived, predictable plots or repetitive exclamations. But I really like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind and in Cinderella Man. I think Howard did a fine job handling the Depression era and the inspiring story of Braddock.
      I hope you catch up with it soon. Cheers!

  3. Great stuff once again Cindy! I’m not a fan of boxing films but made an exception w/ this one for Russell Crowe and it was well worth the effort.

    1. Hi Ruth, thanks very much. Yes, I can’t say I’m a fan of boxing, but loved the themes within the film. The acting is very solid and the story is great. It’s as good if not better than A Beautiful Mind. Everyone needs a feel-good film. This is it. 🙂

      1. I think this is better than A Beautiful Mind, I always like stories of ordinary people overcoming adversities. It’s not so much a boxing film but a survival film that involves boxing. Great stuff!

  4. There seems to be an underlying fear and warning in this movie that such times could come again – as they appeared seemingly overnight and afflicted millions – not caring who you were. In that respect the movie is scary to watch as it brings the reality of those times back to us.
    Boxing movies are tough to do, but the style of the fighting in that era was probably easier than it would be now? Yet, this is surely more than just a boxing movie – and the fact that it’s rooted in truth gives us heart – and that we can prevail.
    A very nice and full review. Much better than my stuff.

    1. I like your posts; I’m not a great lover of westerns like you, but I learn something frequently when I go to your site, and I like that. Just remember, I don’t know much about the genre you know a great deal about. Educate me 😉

  5. Great piece Cindy! You put up a fantastic argument on how this film worked. It worked in places for me, mainly the performances but a little too sentimental for me, and as you know, I find that Ron Howard can normally wring everything he can from stories like this.

  6. I love Cinderella Man for many reasons, foremost because it’s such a great periodic. Movies are supposed to take you to different places and, indeed, different times. Very keen observation re: the lights – I actually never noticed that before. Your website and writing outline the standard I need to meet for my own page. I’m looking forward to reading more of your reviews.

    Francis

    1. Howdy Francis! Wow, well, you made my day. Thank you so much for your kind words–I hope you come back soon. I love many things like photography, traveling, books, books, and more books, but I adore films and have been a movie buff for a long time. A lot of people on wordpress who have a film blog do a great job with the reviews, but after 10 reviews of the same newest release, it gets old. I like it when bloggers teach me something about the movie making process or specific directors and classics–I’m not that thrilled with the commercial block busters as many are. I like well crafted films with great dialogue. Since I’m a history teacher, I can’t get enough of period pieces–you are so right about Cinderella Man. Ron Howard get’s pounded by movie elitists, but I have a soft spot for him. 😉

      1. I will definitely be back! I probably should love books more than I do movies (I was an English major), but I don’t, haha. I grew up on a very strange collection of movies. Perhaps a post about childhood film influences would be a little too Freudian for wordpress. But suffice it to say that movies are a big part of my life, and I only wish I had started blogging and following movie reviews sooner. I’m with you as far as new release reviews go. 2013 was a great year for films, but past decades are goldmines with movies worth viewing, and revisiting. I also appreciate reviews where the reviewer covers more than just the plot. Movies are, in a way, books splashed onto a screen. There’s plenty of opportunity for all kinds of analysis. I, too, am a Ron Howard fan (after refreshing my memory of which movies he’s directed). I haven’t seen them all, but Frost/Nixon was pretty darn good, I thought.

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