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 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.
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:
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.