The story of James Braddock, a supposedly washed-up boxer who came back to become a champion and an inspiration in the 1930s.
Year 1, Day 356
BEFORE: Now beginning a Russell Crowe two-day chain and continuing with the based-on-a-true-story theme, Cinderella Man is up. I believe the last, and only, boxing movie in the marathon was Real Steel which was very good even with the robots doing the boxing. I’m curious to see how Crowe will fare in the ring in a film I’m expecting to be more akin to The Fighter.
AFTER: The opening title card is a quote from sportswriter Damon Runyon stating, “In all the history of the boxing game you find no human interest story to compare with the life narrative of James J. Braddock…” Braddock’s (Russell Crowe) story is a very inspiring and uplifting one but you only get glimpses of it in the film Cinderella Man. Rather, you see a lot, but only bits and pieces stick out and leave an impression.
As most boxing films are, and as the above quote suggests, Cinderella Man is much more than just a few boxing matches; it’s also the roller coaster ride of Braddock’s life. When the film opens, you see him at the height of his career - undefeated and on the path to the championship. Then, a string of injuries and the Great Depression strike and Braddock find nothing but suffering. His wife and three kids barely have enough to eat and can’t afford electricity, heat, or even milk. It’s from here - the lowest point Braddock could possibly reach - that he begins a climb, a resurgence back to the top in a chance for the championship one more time. As I said before, many parts of this film are inspiring. Like the entire populace of Madison Square Garden on fight night, my emotions ranged from frightened for Braddock’s health to cheering for a victory and booing in disapproval whenever the opponent got a good (or bad) jab in. It’s always easy to root for the underdog and Cinderella Man just helps to prove this point.
But there are many things in this film that prevented me from being up on my feet, yelling at my computer screen like a maniac rooting for Braddock to win, two of which I’ll go in depth on. The first is the focus. The boxing story and the “human interest story” are one in the same; you can’t have one without the other. And yet, Cinderella Man makes it seem as thought they’re separate. The first ten or twenty minutes is all about the boxing, then it’s a good hour plus worth focusing on Braddock the man. What effects does the Great Depression have on him and his family, what he does in spite of all the hardships, and how even in times of trouble, he maintains certain values and upholds his kids to those same ones. This middle chunk feels completely different from the opening, like a film in and of itself. And then you have the end which goes back to the boxing. Cinderella Man tries to get the best of both worlds - boxing and a rags-to-riches drama - but loses both because of how they are connected, or not connected to be more precise.
The second area I want to focus on is more technical and that’s a combination of the cinematography and editing. Mostly prevalent in the boxing portions of the film, although it does sneak its way into a few other parts here and there, is a heavy use of point-of-view shots and quick editing. When in the ring, many shots are from the perspective of Braddock or his opponent and also tries to mimic what they actually see (read: a lot of blurring - due to the fatigue and repeated blows to the head of course). This is also combined with many quick cuts and often gave the illusion of snapshots (I don’t believe any of the cuts were actually stills, but it certainly felt like individual moments). It’s an interesting idea and one not usually seen in boxing films (typically you see the cameras moving around the boxers in the ring - well, outside the ring looking in) but it doesn’t work. Even with someone as famous and recognizable as Crowe, I found myself dazed and confused as to who was who and it was difficult to see what was going on. It’s only when there was a brief wide shot during fights that I could orient myself before going back into mayhem.
Cinderella Man takes some different approaches to the boxing genre and I applaud director Ron Howard’s desire to do this. For the most part though, the execution is not there and instead it results in a lack of focus and overall confusion. Some things were done well and I still wanted to root for Braddock and his family regardless, but the film is not what it could have been. It doesn’t need to be more like all the other films; Cinderella Man just needs to do what it’s trying to do better. If it had the same drive and motivation as Braddock has to fight the championship match, the film would be much better off.
RATING: 3 out of 5