Essay: Cinderella Man the 2005 Film

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[. . .] We do not need similar assurances about Braddock, because Crowe plays him as a strong-but-sensitive type, and a devoted family man. (Howard manages to establish a brilliant moral contrast here with the film's chief antagonist, heavyweight champion Max Baer, played here by Craig Bierko as a kind of violent and self-infatuated clown, first glimpsed in a hotel room garbed in a silk robe while entertaining more than one young woman. This is structured as a contrast to the film's opening sequence, which operates as a sort of prologue, glimpsing Braddock when his career was at its height: returning from his boxing match, Mae quizzes him about whether or not there were attractive women flirting with him after his victory. But the film presents Braddock as a solid family man: the only time he becomes angry with his wife is when she fails to consult him on a decision to remove their children from their cold apartment, and send them to stay with relatives because Braddock cannot afford to pay the heating bill.

This early confrontation with his wife leads to the first really striking sequence of the film, which leaps out precisely because it is so unexpected in a film whose protagonist is a heavyweight boxer. Braddock's rage at Mae is quickly suppressed, as he realizes that what he needs to do is find the money. Although he has been banned from professional boxing and is currently injured anyway, Braddock retains goodwill with in the boxing community and approaches the clubhouse of Manhattan's boxing promoters to beg for money: this nest of Runyonesque fast talkers is moved by the utter sincerity of Braddock's appeal, and quickly come up with nearly the full amount. (The sum's remainder is provided by Braddock's once and future manager Joe Gould.) But what is striking about the sequence is that it is clearly more physically and emotionally wrenching for Braddock than any of his fights: it is easier for him to be repeatedly punched in the face than it is to suffer this kind of humiliation. Howard uses a particularly effective trick in this sequence: when the camera is on Braddock, he uses a handheld camera with a slight yet dizzying wobble to it, but when the camera focuses on the boxing promoters in their shiny suits and ties, it sits cool and steady. (The effect is close to the later wobbling lack of focus or double vision that we get between rounds in the boxing matches, right after Braddock has taken a punch.) This gives us the very carefully modulated sense that Braddock is falling apart, and prepares us for the shock of seeing Braddock begin weeping openly. (This moment actually reminded me that one of the producers of "Cinderella Man" is director Penny Marshall, whose 1992 comedy "A League of Their Own" features an incredulous Tom Hanks sputtering to a tearful athlete that "there's no crying in baseball!" I wondered if Penny Marshall turned to Ron Howard after watching this scene and remarked: "there's no crying in boxing!" But again this brings up back to the title of the film -- to some extent, the suggestion of femininity in the title "Cinderella Man" is linked to Crowe's willingness to exhibit such emotional vulnerability in the film's opening half.

This is all the more surprising because the film takes advantage of the gender attitudes of its 1930s setting to split Crowe's role schizophrenically into a strongly feminine and domestic plot with Zellweger, and the conventionally masculine boxing world which provides the action sequences for the film. To some degree, the boxing genre is like a macho musical, with scenes of intimate violence replacing the showtunes. But this violence is offered up as something that Zellweger cannot bear to watch, mostly because she is aware of the risks run in her husband's profession. Even before the scenes in which journalists taunt Zellweger's Mae with the fact that Max Baer had twice killed men in the ring, and Max Baer himself will repeatedly invoke her fears about her husband's safety to try to shake Braddock's confidence within the ring, we have already seen it established that Mae fears for her husband's safety: at the film's outset [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cinderella Man the 2005 Film.  (2011, February 26).  Retrieved May 26, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/cinderella-man-2005-film/5243830

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"Cinderella Man the 2005 Film."  26 February 2011.  Web.  26 May 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/cinderella-man-2005-film/5243830>.

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"Cinderella Man the 2005 Film."  Essaytown.com.  February 26, 2011.  Accessed May 26, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/cinderella-man-2005-film/5243830.