Of all the archetypal character traits used in films, the “underdog” is most frequently used in sports films and biopics. I feel there is some kind of special connection we each share with people of humble origin or background who, through sheer determination and grit, go on to achieve greatness. The interesting thing about underdogs who rise to be champions in the world of professional boxing is that one punch delivered from an upstart, a has-been, or a nobody can instantly elevate their career soaring to the top.
I feel Cinderella Man is a film that embodies just that. It was released in 2005 and directed by Ron Howard. Cinderella Man tells the harrowing true story of James J. Braddock. The film begins with James (played by Russel Crowe) having to give up boxing due to a broken right hand and a fairly unimpressive record. Soon after this, the United States finds itself gripped in the Great Depression. James grows depressed that he can’t provide more for his wife and children due to his injuries. He takes up part time work as a longshoreman yet his work isn’t steady. James is ashamed when forced to ask for charity and government assisted welfare. His wife, Mae Braddock (played by Rene Zellweger), is worried what will happen if James takes up boxing again. She fears he could be killed and leave her a widow left to raise her children alone.
However, fate steps in when James’s longtime former couch and friend Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) shows up with an offer for James to participate in a last minute fight. With no alternatives and the fear of being unable to feed his family, James agrees and, to everyone’s surprise, he knocks out the # 2 contender in the world. This shakes up the boxing world, and James Braddock is soon thought of as an inspiring hero to the working class. He is given the nickname “Cinderella Man” by a local sports writer.
As James continues to win and progress it becomes clear that he will have the opportunity to face off against the heavy weight champion of the world, Max Baer (played by Craig Bierko). Baer is feared throughout the boxing world for having killed his last two opponents. But James Braddock is undeterred, much to the horror of his wife Mae. As the fight approaches, he is a 10-1 underdog against the world champion. The film then reaches its fever pitch climax as the whole city of New York listens in on the radio as the two battle it out in Madison Square Garden.
This is a great film and I always find myself watching it whenever I find it on television. Luckily, Cinderella Man is available at the Union University Library for rent. It is rated PG-13 for violence related to boxing and some mild language.