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Hard-hitting boxing film comes to DVD

Molly Griffin | Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Much like the inspiration for its title, “Cinderella Man” is a familiar story. It explores the common sports film cliché of the underdog triumphing over seeming insurmountable odds to find victory.

While it doesn’t necessarily add anything new to the genre, it is an entertaining movie. It has a great cast and an intriguing real-life story, and in spite of some overly sentimental moments, it emerges as an engaging movie.

“Cinderella Man” follows Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe), a once successful boxer whose career suffers due to injuries and the onset of the Great Depression. He and his wife Mae (Renee Zellweger) must cope with the encroachment of poverty, and Jim must deal with being unable to box the way he used to. Through some hard work and lucky breaks, Jim – with the help and support of Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti), his manager – reclaims his boxing career. He faces his greatest challenge, both as a boxer and a family man, when he is called to face heavyweight champion Max Baer (Craig Bierko), who has built an imposing reputation for previously killing a man in the ring.

The movie is based on a true story, and as far as biographies goes, it does a good job of selecting the most salient part of Jim Braddock’s life in terms of interest. While the subject matter itself is interesting, director Ron Howard paces the film too slowly and it would have benefited from some trimming.

The greatest strength of “Cinderella Man” is its high-caliber cast, and the actors all do a fantastic job with their respective parts. Crowe is a convincing actor both on and off the canvas, and he is particularly effective at portraying both the pain and resilience of boxing through just his expressions and physical movements.

While Zellweger isn’t given a great deal to work with and has a number of painfully cheesy lines in the film, she does a good job playing the equally nervous and supportive wife of a boxer. Giamatti’s character, like Zellweger’s, isn’t particularly meaty, but he does a great job as a supportive manager and friend.

The boxing scenes are extremely well choreographed and gut-wrenchingly effective in portraying the sheer physical pain of boxing.

Scenes outside of the boxing realm suffer, mostly because of the heavy-handed sentimentality that pervades them. Not all of the scenes are overly emotional, but a few, such as when Mae tells Jim that he is “the champion of my heart,” are cringe-worthy.

The extras included on the DVD focus primarily on the historical background of the film and its production. The short featurette entitled “Ringside Seats” provides historical footage from the Braddock-Baer fight in 1935, and “Friends and Family Behind the Legend” features interviews with people who knew Braddock. “For the Record: A History in Boxing” provides a look at the accuracy of the boxing scenes in the film.

There are also a number of deleted scenes that come with optional commentary from Howard, as well as a short featurette entitled “A Filmmaking Journey,” which chronicles how the film itself was made. The featurette “The Fight Card” details how the cast got involved with the movie.

“Cinderella Man” is far from perfect, but much like the film’s protagonist, it manages to overcome its difficulties with determination and persistence. While it is a familiar story, the great cast and loving direction of Howard make it an enjoyable experience, and the extras add historical context to an already strong film.