Although it bombed unexpectedly at the US box office this Depression era boxing drama is an accomplished and moving depiction of James Braddock’s extraordinary career.
The story of US boxer James J Braddock reads like a fairy tale. During the Great Depression in New York he was forced into a series of menial jobs and struggled to hold his family together in the face of terrible poverty. However, chance and opportunity combined to give him a chance to return to the ring and get his life back on track, even leading him to a shot at the world title.
Although Ron Howard’s film occasionally lapses into the sentimentality that has characterised much of his work, it is still an engaging portrayal of loss and redemption during a dark chapter of US history. The film bears a strong resemblance in both narrative and tone to Howard’s 2001 film A Beautiful Mind, which isn’t that surprising given that it shares a lot of the same cast and producers.
The disappointing performance at the US box office back in June certainly came as a shock to the studios that produced it, but on reflection one can see how it turned audiences off. Not withstanding the unwise decision to release a serious period film like this smack in the middle of the summer season, the first half is fairly grim and depressing for a mainstream film and it takes a while before the Braddock’s redemption gathers pace.
However, the darkness in the first half is what gives the latter stages of the film much of its power and one can’t help thinking the film would have done better had it been given a platform release nearer Christmas in time for the awards season. On a technical level it is certainly deserving of award recognition. The recreation of 30s America is hard to fault and the production design by Wynn Thomas is highly impressive – one particular highlight is the recreation of the shantytown (or “Hooverville”) that existed in Central Park at the time.
The acting is uniformly impressive and it is unfortunate that Russell Crowe’s lead performance has been overshadowed by his phone throwing antics off screen. He gives another solid performance, managing to be utterly believable as an Irish New Yorker boxer. Despite his gruff star persona he still remains one of the best actors on Hollywood’s A-list giving performances that are more nuanced and considered than many of his contemporaries. Paul Giamatti as his manager and Renee Zellwegger as his wife Mae also offer solid support whilst Paddy Considine has an interesting (if underwritten) role as one of Braddock’s close friends. Perhaps in time Cinderella Man will, like its central character, make a comeback and find a more receptive audience than it got during the summer.
> Official Site
> IMDb Link
> Reviews at Metacritic
> The New York Times on the film’s poor opening
> The Hot Button muses on the box office failure of the film and how it was reported
> Wikipedia on James J Braddock
> Slate on Braddock’s opponent Max Baer
> Ron Howard speaks to Sports Illustrated about the boxing scenes