Review by Paul Stathakis | 2005

A Cinderella story

Jim Brad­dock is a deter­mined box­er who, towards the end of the film, claims he will win an impor­tant bout because this time around, “I know what I’m fight­ing for.”  One reporter tries to cor­ner Brad­dock, not with punch­es but with a ques­tion.  “If you win, what will you buy with your mon­ey?” asks the reporter.  Braddock’s answer catch­es all the press off guard:“Milk.”

This answer seems appro­pri­ate see­ing how Ron Howard’s mas­ter­piece takes place at the height of the Great Depres­sion.  The New Jer­sey of the 30s and 40s was a tough place for fam­i­lies to live com­fort­ably.  There were wor­ries.  Heat­ing kept the fam­i­ly warm, elec­tric­i­ty kept the lights on, and food was, as always, essen­tial to anyone’s well­be­ing.  There were job cuts.  It was a strug­gle.  Those for­tu­nate enough to find labor (you were hand­picked by mem­bers search­ing for stur­dy work­ers) made enough mon­ey to pay the bills and feed their families.

At the very begin­ning of “Cin­derel­la Man”, Jim Brad­dock is a dif­fer­ent man.  He is boast­ful.  He has a nice home, a wife, and three kids.  They are his life.  But 4 years lat­er, we meet a dif­fer­ent Jim Brad­dock.  He is not rich any­more.  His fights are not doing so well.  His name is falling out of the news­pa­pers and the com­mis­sion is not pleased with his per­for­mances in the ring.  His box­ing license is revoked and as much as his friend/manager wish­es he could help mat­ters, he can’t.  That hits Brad­dock hard, maybe hard­er than any jab he has ever received from an opponent/

It doesn’t end there.  Jim also loos­es the nice home, he has a hard time keep­ing up with the bills, and almost every­thing is “past due.”  But he has his fam­i­ly and their sup­port.  He gets work here and there, work­ing on a dock.  There is a moment where Brad­dock loos­es his posi­tion as a dock work­er.  He turns to old friends and asks them to look into their hearts and help him finan­cial­ly.  This is a dra­mat­ic scene.  Here is a man who is so des­per­ate, so out of moves, that he stoops to a lev­el one might call, not nec­es­sar­i­ly low, but embarrassing.

There’s more.  Some­how a box­er is injured.  He can­not par­tic­i­pate in a key fight.  The com­mis­sion pan­ics.  They grow hope­less.  But they remem­ber Brad­dock and it just so hap­pens that they now need him, for this fight only.  No one thinks Brad­dock will make it.  But they can play the angle that Brad­dock has nev­er been knocked out before.  Well, he gets through the fight and knocks the oppo­nent out.  What a sur­prise.  No one can believe it.  “What a good­bye that was,” says his manager.

Cin­derel­la Man” was based on a true sto­ry.  The poster’s tagline reads, “When Amer­i­ca was on its knees, he brought us to our feet.”  The entire audi­ence watch­ing this film was on their knees and by the end there was not a sad face to be found.  This movie will bring you to your feet.  It has that qual­i­ty.  It ful­fills its promise.  Brad­dock is giv­en a chance to come out retire­ment and prove him­self.  Does he?  My lips are sealed.  Just do not make the mis­take of going into this movie know­ing every­thing about Brad­dock.  It can take away from the cli­max, which is so emo­tion­al­ly charged.

There are sev­er­al events in “Cin­derel­la Man” where we under­stand that the Depres­sion Era was a time that called for uni­ty, hope, and fam­i­ly val­ues.  Brad­dock tells reporters, “I said to my kids tonight that I’d bring home the title.  They under­stood tur­tles. Now, I got to bring them tur­tles.”  “Cin­derel­la Man” is not about the box­er who fades away and then gives it his all in a come­back.  It’s not even cen­tered on the title he may or may not win.  It’s one of the year’s best films because, metaphor­i­cal­ly speak­ing, it’s about the turtles.


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