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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