Director Ron Howard and Producers Brian Grazer, Penny Marshall had all the ingredients of a clichéd film.
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First, they selected an award winning actor to play the lead role in ‘Cinderella Man’. Then they chose to focus on a storyline that others have done countless times in Hollywood; a boxing championship.
Furthermore, the events in the film occurred in the depression era, which was a favorite for many predecessors before them. Regardless of these obvious choices, the film feels nothing like a cliché. The combination of characters, themes, and narration work perfectly to make the story authentic.
The film is about a 1930s boxing legend known as James Braddock. Others nicknamed him Cinderella man because, just like the fairytale Cinderella, he arose from underdog to championship status despite tremendous odds. Braddock was a budding boxer before the depression.
However, after the stock market crash, he lost his job and struggled to provide for his family. It was at this point when he got a second chance from his manager –Joe Gould.
Braddock unexpectedly wins the match and succeeds in several other matches. Eventually, he wins the national championship against one of the most feared competitors in boxing history- Max Baer (Howard, 2005).
Elements of the film that bring out its authenticity
It is possible to categorize this movie into three predominant genres; however, the director’s approach to each of these genres was eccentric thus rendering credibility to the film. The first and most obvious genre is the autobiographical film category.
The movie is a depiction of the life of James Braddock. In fact, its director tried to stay as true to the real Braddock as possible. The boxing mannerisms of the lead characters were typical of the real individuals that experienced those events.
However, instead of blandly relieving the events of this sportsman’s professional life, the producers merged it with James’ personal experiences. They also took liberties with some of the characters like Braddock’s key competitor Max Baer.
Historians affirm that the latter individual was less brutal than depicted in the film. It was necessary to take these liberties in order to make the movie interesting. Therefore, the director’s interpretation of an autobiographical movie was a welcome break from the norm.
Alternatively, one may classify this motion picture as a sports film. Boxing as a competitive sport is one of the most entertaining to watch. Nonetheless, several directors have fallen into the trap of making it too action-packed.
90’s films like ‘Rocky’ lacked substance because their focus was on winning matches rather than the journey towards the prize. ‘Cinderella man’ avoids this blunder by dedicating a substantial portion of the movie to James’ life outside the ring.
Additionally, even the action sequences are quite believable. Therefore, Cinderella man is an impressive improvement of a sports film.
‘Cinderella man’ is a historical movie since it relives the horrors of an important historical occurrence in the US. Depression-era films come in many shapes and sizes.
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What makes this film unique is its perfect blend of personal stories, action-packed boxing matches and the economic atmosphere after the stock-market crash. It would have been boring for the plot to focus on the stock market crash and its general effect on people.
However, by selecting one man’s story, the film expanded its audience from intellectuals and historians to typical American audiences. All individuals have the capacity to resonate with others once they hear their stories.
Furthermore, the director captured the tone and atmosphere of the 30s perfectly. Its lead characters talk just like working- class Americans of that time talked. Furthermore, their costume and locations were emblematic of the 30s.
Ron Howard recreated a New York Street in the 1930s by reorganizing a large portion of Toronto. Everything from the stop lights to the store fronts was typical of that era.
Therefore, the production team used their storyline, location, character selection, and costume to portray the historical side of the film; this was quite commendable (Landay, 2013).
The film extols the virtues of honest, hard work. The depression minimized people’s options in the country. However, a few resolute individuals like James stuck to their principles and continued to provide for their families through honest means.
When Braddock asks for a last chance in boxing, he does not do it for sentimental reasons as this would have made the film too sentimental. His reasons are noble and literal to the typical American audience, so they add authenticity to the film.
Cinderella man also has the theme of optimism. The first part of the movie seems dark and depressing as Braddock’s family takes many blows. At one, point, his wife must ask a gas technician to refrain from disconnecting their heat.
In another scenario, he had to borrow change from a colleague. It would have been easy to throw in the towel, but James did not do it. He swallowed his pride and asked for an opportunity. When he got it, Braddock went after the prize with all his resolve.
James’ fight against Baer seemed like a case of David versus Goliath. He did not give up on the match regardless of the threats and intimidation of other parties. Because of his commitment to his goal, Braddock garnered support from the masses.
Many of them found inspiration from someone like them. At the time, the country needed a hero, so Braddock was more than welcome to take the role.
Perhaps one of the reasons why the movie seems so authentic is the input that the lead actor –Russell Crowe made to the motion picture. The latter individual seems perfectly suited for the role. Braddock was a laid-back and dignified man who reserved his aggressiveness for the boxing ring.
When Braddock was about to lose everything, he decided to beg for one last opportunity in boxing. Russell Crowe pulls off that scene with so much grace. He is steady but spirited at the same time. This is clearly something that only talented actors can accomplish (Landay, 2013).
A substantial part of the movie converts the boxing matches that Braddock engaged in before his championship title. This marks the greatest accomplishment of the production team. Boxing as a sport attracts large crowds due to its showmanship as well as its technical credentials.
Crowe captured both aspects very clearly. The production team made the action long enough to be enjoyed, but short enough to create apprehension. Braddock’s punches are deliberate, which explains why he beats a man who had killed two people in the ring.
It took a lot of skill to represent this triumph of brains over brawn, so the character casting was ideal for the lead role. The production team did not fix these matches into the story sequence simply to fulfill sporting expectations. The matches were in the movie to enrich the narrative.
Overall, Crowe is more than persuasive as a sweaty, determined and sluggish fighter in this film. He does not use antics to garner support; instead he relies on his wits and fists.
Braddock’s wife, as played by Renee Zellweger, was an ideal representation of a working class mother. She worried about her husband’s safety in boxing. This explains why she tried to talk him out of it and even avoided listening to the match commentaries when Braddock met Baer.
Zellweger delivers an impressive performance of a mother who only wants the best for her family. She is homely and ideal for her part. Similarly, Braddock’s manager also did a good job in the film. Joe is ideal for injecting a dose of humor into the narrative.
The production team selected Paul Giamatti for this role. At one, point, he talks crudely about seeing the opponent’s blood on the floor.
In another scene, he puts his own property at stake because he wanted to get money for Braddock’s training. His blend of humor, honesty and loyalty to Braddock are both endearing and just right for him
The production team’s choice of theme, characters and genre were perfect for creating an authentic and credible film. The director’s interpretation of the sports, autobiographic and historical film genres made the piece unique because he focused on a personal narrative.
Most of the action sequences served the plot rather than the reverse. The choice of character augmented the film’s credentials because Russell Crowe, Paul Giamatti, and Renee Zellweger were ideal for the roles.
Finally, the film’s themes were conventional, but the production team’s depiction of them was what made them sensible.
Howard, R. (Executive Producer). (2005). Cinderella man [DVD]. Los Angeles: Universal.
Landay, L. (2013). Film Analysis. Web.