A very well made film with a host of thoughtfully put together extra features.
It would have been great to see a “Before and After” piece in which we see Russell Crowe’s physical transformation into Jim Braddock.
Okay, let’s set the record straight about the Cinderella Man. First of all, a movie that was budgeted at $88 million and made $104 million worldwide is not a bomb. It just didn’t make it’s money back in the US alone, and I just think expectations were that it would at least do that. Secondly, and most important, is that this is certainly one of the best films to come out this year, it’s one of the best films ever made and it’s certainly one of the best boxing films ever made. Sorry, I don’t count that bait and switch tale Million Dollar Baby, because at it’s core it’s not a boxing tale but one culled from the headlines to manufacture debate, press, controversy and of course the Academy of Arts and Sciences.
It is my hope that come Oscar time this movie is at the very least nominated for Best Picture. This tale of James J. Braddock is one of the most uplifting and inspirational ever told. Deftly played by Russell Crowe this is a tale of a man who never complained, never whined and never blamed the “opponents he couldn’t hit” for his troubles. He just found a way for himself and his family to make it and in doing so inspired a nation. If this doesn’t compel the Academy to at least give this movie a few Oscar nominations, then everyone on the board should turn in their membership cards.
Commentary Tracks and Deleted Scenes
This DVD comes with three different Commentary Tracks from Ron Howard, Akiva Goldsman (Screenwriter) and Cliff Hollingsworth (Screenwriter). I did my best to listen to all three commentary tracks because I am big fan of Ron Howard (both as an actor and a Director), but I also dabble in screenwriting so I was certainly interested in what Goldsman and Hollingsworth had to say. Honestly, I hate to say it but from what I Iistened to on this DVD, I found what Ron Howard had to say to be a lot more interesting. Whenever screenwriters start “breaking down the craft,” I just find myself losing interest. While Howard was certainly technical, there was a great deal of storytelling and anecdotes that I found very interesting. He even has a way of making the technical end of filmmaking sound better than most. The Deleted Scenes feature a mix of never before seen shots, with elongated versions of scenes that weren’t in the final movie. You have new scenes like Braddock signing autographs after a fight, or a longer shot of him covering up his hand that’s in a cast, to more period related scenes like one that takes place on a food line.
Casting the Cinderella Man; A Filmmaking Journey and A History in Boxing
The Fight Card: Casting the Cinderella Man shows us how all the actors were placed in their roles. While this is really just people like Ron Howard and Brian Grazer talking about what they saw in the actors that made them think they could play these characters, it is an interesting segment ot watch. The cast is broken down and it’s explained why certain aspects of an actor made them the perfect person for a particular role. The Man, The Movie, The Legend: A Filmmaking Journey, chronicles the making of this film. It shows us how Russell Crowe was very passionate about the project, and his passion transferred over to Ron Howard and that’s eventually what got this film made. I also had no idea that it was such a collaboration between these two. Pretty standard as far as “making of” pieces go, I found it to be intriguing nonetheless. For the Record: A History In Boxing gives us Angelo Dundee and Wayne Gordon, the men who trained Russell Crowe for this movie. If you are a boxing fan, which I am, then you already know about Angelo Dundee. He has had a bevy of ring champions the least of which you may remember being a guy called Muhammad Ali. Of course these two trainers have nothing but glowing reviews of their work with everyone on this production, and of course Dundee says that Crowe could compete as a boxer. For people who don’t know Dundee this is fun, but for the seasoned boxing fan we know that it’s a line of bull.
Ringside Seats; Behind the Legend and Kodak Cinderella Man ery
The Ringside Seats portion of the DVD is really for the fight enthusiasts. Ron Howard, Akiva Goldsman and Brian Grazer sit down with Normal Mailer as he dissects the actual fight between Jim Braddock vs. Max Baer. I could listen to Mailer talk all day but I found it funny when someone like Brian Grazer or Akiva Goldsman would offer their input on the fight. It really sounded like a person at someone’s house for a fight party, and they were trying to seem knowledgeable so that they wouldn’t not seem knowledgeable. Jim Braddock: The Friends and Family Behind the Legend is actually an 11 minute version of Braddock’s lifestory told by the people who were the closest to him. What really gives this piece a lot of credibility is seeing the footage of the real Jim Braddock and his family. While it covers much of the ground we have already seen in the other DVD segments, this piece simply fleshes out the man a bit further. Lastly, the Kodak Cinderella Man Gallery didn’t seem like something that was made for the Cinderella Man per se, so much as it is a commercial for one of Kodak’s Galleries.
Widescreen - Aspect Ratio 2.35:1. This movie looks big yet the story is very small. I also like that it doesn’t get lost in trying to make us believe in this period we are seeing on screen. I can’t really put it into words but the situations and the time in which the story is taking place, is just presented to us without any need to highlight it anymore that it is on screen. The only problem that I think viewers might have is that this film is somewhat dark in spots. Not really in subject matter but the look of it is very dark. Perhaps this contributed in some way to the negative word of mouth this film received, but I think that this movie’s look is what enhances it. I don’t think it’s possible to watch the Cinderella Man and not get caught up in it.
English - Dolby Digital 5.1. Like the way this movie is presented visually, I didn’t find that the sound was used to beat me over the head with ideas and emotions. Certainly, the screaming crowds reverberated in the movie theater, but on the whole I am happy that the sound was used to underscore the dialogue. As this is a movie about mankind's humanity the choice of just letting the characters carry the day really speaks volumes. Sure, there are the classic orchestral moments where the sound crescendos, and everything swells as the emotional impact of the scene hit’s home (this is a big budget Hollywood movie), but I never felt like I was being manipulated in either direction. This film just tells it’s story and relies on the human spirit in all of us to see where it’s coming from.
The cover of this DVD gives us Jim Braddock with his wife Mae (Renée Zellweger) in his arms. Under this is picture of Braddock in the ring and the idea is made clear... boxing was important but his family was Braddock’s life. On the back are some more shots from the movie, a description of what the Cinderella Man is about, a “Bonus Features” listing and technical specs. I love that they have made this a one disc set as I think it will appeal to more people. Sometimes I think all the DVDs in a box set can seem intimidating both from a viewing and a financial perspective.
My favorite moment in this film is just before Braddock’s first comeback fight. As he stands in his corner getting ready he turns and looks at the crowd. Slowly, we see a slight smile come to his face and there is a glint in his eye. At this moment, we seem to realize (just as Braddock is realizing) that this is a man who has nothing to lose. If he gets beaten in this fight, who cares because he was meant to get beaten. If he wins, well, he’ll worry about that when it happens. Right now, for that one moment, we are seeing man who, inside the squared circle at least, doesn’t have a care in the world.
Thickly layered and well handled by Ron Howard’s Direction and Salvatore Totino’s Cinematography, here’s hoping that the Cinderella Man makes a comeback of it’s own on DVD.