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DVD Pick: "Cinderella Man"

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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"Cinderella Man" (2005) is an old-fashioned, well-crafted, feel-good sports biopic, and I think it makes a nearly perfect star vehicle for Russell Crowe as boxing great James J. Braddock. I found this movie very entertaining when I watched it at home on DVD.

I consider the casting and acting in "Cinderella Man" to be outstanding. Renée Zellweger is good as Braddock's devoted wife, and Paul Giamatti gives a strong performance as his manager. Craig Bierko is impressive as heavyweight champ Max Baer, and Paddy Considine plays Braddock's hapless friend. In a nice touch, the real-life Braddock's granddaughter, Rosemarie DeWitt, has a small role as Considine's character's wife.

The film's location shooting helped convince me I was watching events taking place in and around 1930's New York City. I particularly liked the look and feel of the sequences set in long-gone old Madison Square Garden. (They were shot in Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens.) Also, the northern New Jersey tenement where the Braddock family lived and the docks where Jim worked as a longshoremen come off as appropriately gritty. Throughout the movie, sets and costumes seemed right for the period.

"Cinderella Man" reunites leading man Russell Crowe with key members of the "A Beautiful Mind" team, notably director Ron Howard, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and producer Brian Grazer. However, as much as I enjoyed "Cinderella Man," I didn't find it as interesting as "A Beautiful Mind."

I recommend "Cinderella Man" for its apotheosis of the working-class family man, its boxing sequences and its depiction of the Great Depression. However, I can't say that any specific images have stuck in my mind, and no line of dialogue left a lasting impression on me. It seems to me the movie lacks psychological complexity, and Braddock never emerges as a three-dimensional character. Also, the filmmaking plays it very safe, seldom taking chances.

Three DVD editions of "Cinderella Man" were released on December 6, 2005, and here I am reviewing the single-disc edition that contains the feature film in widescreen. The DVD is two-sided with Side A containing the feature film plus three audio commentary tracks and Side B providing bonus materials with a total run time of approximately 1 hour 26 minutes.

Each of director Ron Howard, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and screenwriter Cliff Hollingsworth gets his own separate audio commentary track, and all three bring up points that caught my interest. I enjoyed listening to Hollingsworth most—he wrote the original script and goes into considerable detail about the real-life Braddock. Goldsman explains what he was trying to accomplish with his final version of the screenplay. And I can't think of any director who expresses himself more clearly than Ron Howard in talking about his process in making a movie.

Side B of the DVD provides half a dozen bonus features. My favorite is the nine-minute featurette where 82-year-old writer Norman Mailer shares his insights with Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Akiva Goldsman as the four of them watch actual footage of the 1935 championship fight between Braddock and Max Baer.

Other extras on Side B include 21 minutes of deleted scenes with optional director commentary; 23 minutes of interviews about the movie's casting; a 14-minute making-of feature; six-and-a-half minutes on legendary boxing trainer Angelo Dundee; and 11 minutes focusing on members of Braddock's family.

On the next page, I've listed the details for the widescreen single-disc DVD edition of "Cinderella Man." There's also a full-screen single-disc edition that is identical except for the aspect ratio of the feature film. In addition to the two single-disc editions, there's a two-disc Collector's Edition, and I have given details for it elsewhere on this site.

Continued on the Next Page: DVD Details

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