Except for hockey, I'm not really into sports. Oddly enough though, I am into sports movies. Hollywood's fantasized version is light-years better than the real thing. Especially when it comes to boxing. Boxing is horrible sport. Two men standing in a ring bashing each other in the face, where's the sport in that? I can see that in the streets. These days it's corrupt too, the sport itself is barely a step above the stuff the Rock was cooking before he started doing movies. Boxing movies though, we never get sick of them. The movie version of boxing is glorified beyond belief, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Of course the boxing genre has been done to death on film. We don't really need another boxing movie. The only thing that really sets Cinderella Man apart from the dozens of other movies like it out there is abject poverty. The film works best as a snapshot of life in the Great Depression, a time when even the wealthiest guy might tomorrow wake up to find himself living in a cardboard box on the street.
It's the story of Jim J. Braddock, a once promising boxer and title contender who after injury and a run of bad luck ends up in one of those cardboard boxes with his family. He can't win a fight to save his life, let alone to put bread on the table. Making their story all the more moving is the title card "Based on a true story". As the story of an honorable man struggling to do the right thing by his wife and kids Cinderella Man is every bit as great a movie as the buzz would have you believe. But then there's that pesky boxing thing…
As a boxing movie, Cinderella Man is just run of the mill. The film makes every obvious choice in the book. Max Baer is a sneering villain, designed to manipulate the audience into having a clear bad guy to root against. The fights play out as you'd expect, Braddock is down on his luck and then at the last possible moment he wins. To some extent this is the way it really happened, but the story has been given such a slick, Hollywood sheen you might slip and fall on your way out of the theater. You've seen this boxing story before. There's nothing new here.
Combine a bland boxing story together with a great depression story and you've got a pretty solid movie. It helps that Russell Crowe is absolutely brilliant. The guy may be an asshole blowhard in real life, but on screen he's a fantastic actor. With Cinderella Man he finally gets paid for fightin round the world. Swing away Russell, you can't get sued as long as you're wearing those gloves. Renee Zellweger continues to squint her way through life. Paul Giamatti is great, with the little bit of material he's given. I can't wait to see this guy back in a bigger role in Shyamalan's Lady in the Water. He's better as a balding lead than a balding sidekick.
To the point, Cinderella Man is a very good movie, but not as good as some of the people trumpeting it as 2005's best would have you believe. There's a reason it didn't do better in theatrical release, and it has nothing to do with box office slumps or a poorly timed release. It's not that good. If it were really the caliber of movie the media is heralding it as, then it could have overcome any or all of those things. Other movies have. Cinderella Man is a good film, but not the kind of truly great film that's likely to lure audiences into going out of their way to see it.
We're having a little problem with Universal. They've decided that rather than send us the actual DVD to review, they'll send stripped down screener copies out for the press to take a look at, under the guise of combating piracy. Note to Universal: Don't accuse the press of being pirates. They might take it personally. You don't want a 1/5 review do you? Kidding aside, while I appreciate them making an extra effort to get us DVDs before the release date, it's almost better to get them alter and get the real deal.
The problem with them doing this is they're cheating all of you out of a decent review. The copy I got comes with the label "not final product"… in other words what I watched for this review may not be what's on the DVD you purchase. Lovely isn't it? Even if it were, the screener version they sent me comes without any finished menus or box art. I can't review any of that. All I can do here is talk about the special features included with the disc, and hope that what I'm talking about ends up being what's actually on the DVD. I could do that, or I could just end this review right now and walk away. Alright, I'll try to muddle through anyway with a brief overview of what's should be on the Cinderella Man DVD.
First what you need to know is that there are two different versions of the DVD being released. There's standard edition, and the Gift Set edition. The difference between them isn't just their containers (at least I assume since I've not seen the containers). The standard edition is a single disc set, with a nice set of extra features on it. The Gift Set edition is a 2-disc set with a ridiculous number of extra features on it.
I've watched both sets, or rather what should be on both sets for the purposes of this review. Don't bother with the Gift Set unless you really love this movie. The standard release is actually surprisingly serviceable as a run-of-the-mill, single disc release. It comes loaded with around 88 minutes of extra features! This is on the single disc version mind you. Plenty of great stuff on the standard release including commentary tracks, documentaries, interviews, footage of the real James J. Braddock. It's a well done release and it's half the price of the Gift Set.
If you do get the Gift Set, you'll get the standard release with a second disc packed with 141 minutes of even more extras. For me, someone who liked the movie but wasn't in awe of it, that was a bit much. I'll enjoy getting into that much detail on a movie like Lord of the Rings, but to me that's more than I wanted out of Cinderella Man.
So look, I'm not going to say I've seen this DVD. If I'd actually seen either the Gift Set or the Standard Edition I'd absolutely recommend both of them, especially the Standard Edition. It's your best value. But since I can't guarantee that I've seen either, it's at this point that I'm just going to shrug my shoulders and walk off. Good luck!