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Film / Cinderella Man

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Cinderella Man is 2005 drama film directed by Ron Howard, starring Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Paddy Considine and Craig Bierko. It loosely follows the story of Real Life boxing champion James J. Braddock, aka "Cinderella Man". It was an uplifting underdog story, set in a time when the country very much needed one.

The movie begins during what should have been the upswing of Braddock's career in the late 1920s. Braddock (Crowe) has it all — a successful boxing career, a pretty wife, Mae (Zellweger), and three beautiful children. Cut to several years later, we find out that Braddock was forced to abandon his boxing career after suffering a broken hand. His wife saw this as a both a blessing and a curse, as she feared for his safety in the ring, but knew boxing was the best way for Jim to support their family.

As the Great Depression hits, Braddock is forced to do manual labor, working on the docks to (barely) support his family, who live in extremely poor conditions. At one point, he takes public assistance (a great source of shame to him) to pay his electricity bill, allowing his kids to stay in the house. After another boxer cancels at the last minute, Jim's old manager Joe Gould (Giamatti) asks him to fight the number two contender in the world. There is little chance Jim will win, but this is a Ron Howard film, so...

Jim wins the fight, thanks to new-found strength in his non-broken hand from his work on the docks, coupled with an uncompromising drive to support his family. After the stunning upset, Gould and Braddock discuss a full-time return to the ring. Mae is extremely angry with Joe for trying to profit from Jim's willingness to put himself in danger. She is surprised and humbled to see that Joe's belief in Jim is so strong, he and his wife have sold almost all of their possessions in order to pay for Jim's training.

As Jim continues to win fights, he moves closer to fighting the defending world champion, Max Baer (Bierko), an arrogant and dangerous opponent in the ring. Jim's rags-to-riches story captivates the nation, earning him the nickname "Cinderella Man" and the fight is billed as a David vs. Goliath. Max Baer taunts Jim at every turn prior to the fight, attempting to humiliate him publicly. The boxing commissioner insists on showing footage of two of Baer's previous fights, where each boxer died from injuries sustained in the ring, so Jim is aware of what is at stake.

But Jim's resolve remains strong and he insists on fighting, because he feels a duty to all those who believe in him. On the night of the fight, Mae can not even bring herself to watch in person, or listen on the radio. In the end, of course, Braddock wins a stunning and hard-fought bout, enabling a Happily Ever After ending. But it is a Ron Howard movie, so this was to be expected.

Definitely not to be confused with Cinderella or the Eminem song of the same name. Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays the Braddocks' neighbor Sara, is the real Jim Braddock's Real Life granddaughter.

This film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: In a heroic variation, Jim abandons what's left of his pride and goes into Manhattan to beg the managers, agents, and trainers of his old boxing club for money when the power company is a day away from shutting him off. In a movie replete with some pretty bone-jarring pugilism, this is perhaps the hardest scene to watch. Especially when he apologizes to Joe for "embarrassing" him.
    Joe: What in the hell do you have to be sorry about?
  • Amazing Freaking Grace: Joe whistles "Danny Boy" while Jim is preparing for his fight against Baer.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: The movie underscores how Jimmy's experience and insight help fuel his victories as he replays encounters in his head from his point of view (some imagined by what he sees on film), and emphasizes the openings in his opponent's guards that he exploits to great effect once he baits those attacks out.
  • Based on a True Story: Braddock's story is rendered pretty accurately in the film. The main departure from fact is the portrayal of Max Baer, who was a likeable, well-regarded fellow in Real Life. The real Baer killed only one man in the ring and was deeply troubled by it.
  • Casualty in the Ring: In the movie, Baer has killed two opponents in the ring by the time he faces Braddock. (In Real Life there was only one such death in the ring and, contrary to the movie depiction, he felt really bad about it. A second opponent of Baer's did die, albeit six months after their match while in the middle of another bout, his first match since the Baer fight. Boxing historians tend to agree that this second opponent likely suffered a life threatening concussion against Baer that was aggravated and became a fatal injury when he fought again.)
  • Deadpan Snarker: Joe always has a witty line ready. Lampshaded by his boss when he doesn't have one while watching film footage of Baer.
  • The Determinator: Jim, especially in the last fight of the movie.
  • Disability Superpower: A minor, temporary form, but Braddock's hand injury results in him having to rely on his good left hand for dock work. The result is when he returns to boxing, he has a much stronger jab than he did previously in his career that ends up one of his most powerful tools during his career renaissance.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Subverted. Baer initially appears to be uncomfortable about potentially leaving Braddock's family without a father, and offers to go easy on him if he doesn't put up too much of a fight. After Braddock turns that offer down though, it soon becomes obvious that in reality Baer has absolutely no problem with killing him, and that his offer to go easy was more than likely a psychological tactic.
  • Fragile Speedster: John Henry Lewis is extremely fast but when Braddock finally pins him down, he goes down fast.
  • Game-Breaking Injury: Subverted. Braddock's broken hand is seen as this but he eventually recovers.
  • Game Face: Baer's Death Glare partway through the fight with Braddock.
  • The Great Depression
  • Graceful Loser: Despite all the shenanigans that Baer did during the Braddock fight, he graciously shakes Braddock's hand after the match and quietly leaves the ring.
  • Grin of Audacity: Art Lasky clocks Jim hard enough to knock his mouthpiece out, and nearly floor Jim. Jim, after some flashes of what he has to fight for, simply gives Lasky a bloody smile on the way to fetch his mouthpiece. Lasky's expression goes from smug and confident to absolutely shaken when he realizes how much punishment Braddock is wiling to take.
  • Groin Attack: Twice Max goes below the belt on Braddock.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Max Baer, who, as described above, was actually a generally nice guy in real life and was horrified by the death of one of his opponents, going so far as donating $15,000 ($213,000 in 2005 dollars) to the man's wife. Max Baer's children were outraged at his villainous portrayal in the film.
  • It Has Been an Honor: Joe essentially says this to Jim before his championship fight against Baer.
  • Jerkass: Max Baer.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": The crowd visibly reacts (rising to their feet) when champ Max Baer's whole demeanor changes to "kill on sight" at the beginning of the third round.
  • Oh, Crap!: Joe when seeing Baer with murder in his eyes. Even the crowd reacts to it.
    Joe: Aw, shit...
    • Art Lasky has one of these himself when Jim merely smiles after taking a shot that knocks his mouthpiece out.
  • Oscar Bait: Unfortunately due to the timing of its release, it was overlooked for most awards, but did get consideration for Best Supporting Actor for Paul Giamatti. He did not win the Oscar, but did at least win a SAG Award.
  • Playing Possum: Late in the Baer fight, Jim gets his bell legitimately rung by Baer and tumbles into the ropes, but recognizes the situation from film of a previous Baer fight. He plays up his grogginess to bait Max into dropping his guard and attempting a finishing right cross, only to surge back to his feet and take Max by surprise.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: Lasky is unnerved when Braddock smiles after taking a shot that knocks his mouthpiece out, then promptly gets the crap beaten out of him by Braddock.
  • Rags to Riches: A story that captivates a down-trodden and destitute country.
  • Recycled Trailer Music: The lack of box office success allows many trailers to reuse the music without as much recognition as other often-recycled scores. It made an appearance as the background music to NBC's final piece about luger Nodar Kumaritashvili from Georgia, who died in a training accident, right before the 2010 Olympics began.
  • Rousing Speech: Joe is good at giving these in an unusually understated manner.
    *Before the 13th Round*
    Joe: Look at me...I swear to you, boyo, win, lose, or draw...
    Jim: Thanks Joey...for everything.
    Joe: You son of a bitch...alright. Stop talking. Get in there. AND BURY HIM!
  • Second-Person Attack: Used for dramatic effect all throughout the fight scenes.
  • Schmuck Bait: During the Baer fight, Max has Jim in a headlock. Joe taunts Max, and it gives Jim the chance to slip out of the headlock and land a good shot on Max.
    Joe: "Hey Maxlia! You gonna punch him or pork him?"
    Max: "That's your job assho-" *takes a shot on the chin*
  • Situational Hand Switch: Braddock is a boxer who breaks his regular hand. To make ends meet, he finds work on the docks where he uses his other arm and hand to handle heavy loads, and starts using this hand in the ring.
  • Slasher Smile: A heroic example, Jim gives one to Art Lasky when Lasky hits him so hard it knocks out his mouthguard (Jim was bleeding from the mouth a bit, so the smile is a bit more demented than normal).
  • Title Drop - Media of the day really did call Jim Braddock that.
  • Trailers Always Spoil - Since the movie was based on easily-researched historical fact, the trailers didn't try too hard to hide the ending.
  • Ultimate Salesman: Joe.
    They oughta put your mouth in the circus, you know that?
  • Underdogs Never Lose
  • Villainous Breakdown: After the Schmuck Bait moment above Baer starts screaming at Joe for the rest of the round, ignoring Braddock. The next round he gets his Game Face on and stops messing around.
    • The 14th round was a one-sided beatdown as Jim was pounding away at Baer. Max's only real offense was a low blow which cost him the round since he performed another one earlier in the match (not that it mattered, since Jim clearly won the round).
  • Villainy-Free Villain: Baer.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue