Men Can Be the Sum of Courage Love and Success Essay

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Cinderella Man

The 2005 film "Cinderella Man" reunites the team of director Ron Howard, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, and leading man Russell Crowe, who had worked together four years earlier on the Oscar-winning "A Beautiful Mind." On the surface the two projects could not seem more different: in "A Beautiful Mind" Crowe plays John Nash, a bespectacled Princeton professor with paranoid schiozphrenia and a Nobel Prize in economics; in "Cinderella Man" he plays Depression-era heavyweight boxing champion James J. Braddock (who had been dubbed "Cinderella Man" in the newspaper columns of raffish "Guys and Dolls" scribe Damon Runyon, who also supplies the film's epigraph). Although the film was widely praised by critics and was nominated for three Oscars (for editing, makeup, and for Paul Giamatti as Best Actor in a Supporting Role playing Braddock's trainer Joe Gould) "Cinderella Man" would underperform at the box office on its original 2005 release -- the film's domestic box office take was some twenty million dollars less than its budget. Yet six years later, the Depression-era setting of the film has become all too relevant to the world at large: one gets the sense that if it had been released in 2011, it would find an audience much more receptive to a depiction of domestic difficulties in an economic downturn. Yet this also leads to the realization that, if "Cinderella Man" would pre-date the present economic crisis by three years, then it wasn't the setting that prompted Crowe, Goldsman, and Howard to approach this particular story after the success of "A Beautiful Mind." So if they weren't making a movie about life during a depression, what sort of movie did they think they were making? There are a number of different answers that could be offered to that question -- "Cinderella Man" manages to straddle genres in a number of ways, and is not only a solid entry into the established genre of "boxing movie" alongside Scorsese's "Raging Bull" (1980) or Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" (2004), but also a lavish period costume drama and a rather sweet domestic drama at the same time.
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The fact that "Million Dollar Baby" won the Best Picture Oscar the year before "Cinderella Man" was released may very well have contributed to the decision of Crowe, Howard and Goldsman to make the film. Clint Eastwood's new twist on the boxing genre was to make the boxer a woman, and to place gender difference in the foreground., and it seems to have inspired the gender-related aspects of "Cinderella Man."

In fact, to a large degree the answer to the question of what sort of movie Howard, Crowe, and Goldsman were making as their followup to their 2001 Oscar-winning Best Picture, is held in the title. "Cinderella Man" is an odd and paradoxical title, and frankly may have contributed to the film's failure to attract audiences despite an overall favorable reviews from critics. (It scores a rating of 80% on the "tomato meter" at, who provide a loose score based on a survey of all contemporary reviews.) But the title is the clue to the movie because it sums up the fairy tale nature of the story -- something that Goldsman makes constant reference to in the script (used to great effect when Braddock's opponent for the film's climactic boxing match, Max Baer, turns it into a threat, growling "People die in fairy tales, too"), while Howard even places visual reminder not commented upon in the dialogue (such as a framed image of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Woolf glimpsed as a decoration in the makeshift "Hooverville" shelters occupied by the displaced poor of New York). The Cinderella story of "Cinderella Man" is the fairy tale in which one man can use love, courage, and determination to find success against overwhelming odds. But the confusion of genders in the title also points to the central tension of the film. Braddock's wife Mae, played by Renee Zellweger, cannot abide the violence of the boxing ring and never attends her husband's fights. Yet the relationship between Braddock and his wife in the film is utterly sweet and devoid of menace -- if Scorsese's "Raging Bull" would coolly depict its protagonist brutally beating his own wife, "Cinderella Man" raises the specter of domestic violence only through a subplot involving Paddy Considine, playing Braddock's…

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