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Humiliation Precedes Exaltation in Cinderella Man

  • Lisa Rice Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jun 05, 2015
Humiliation Precedes Exaltation in <i>Cinderella Man</i>

Release Date:  June 3, 2005
Rating:  PG-13 (for intense boxing violence and language)
Genre:  Drama/Romance
Run Time:  144 min.
Director:  Ron Howard
Actors:  Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger, Paul Giamatti, Paddy Considine, Bruce McGill, Ariel Waller

When America was on its knees, he brought us to our feet.

How does Ron Howard do it?  Was it the acting, writing, and directing-in-Hollywood-since-he-was-a-toddler thing? Yes, the director/producer of The Grinch and A Beautiful Mind again brings us a movie that's equally appealing to both sexes in its drama, action, and heart. Cinderella Man is based on the true story of Jimmy Braddock, the Depression-era boxer who, once a well-paid joke, literally gets hungry and tries to make a comeback against impossible odds.

In 1928, Braddock (Russell Crowe) is personally netting about $3,500 per fight. After some injuries and setbacks, he is known as the guy who plays it safe, tires out, or just doesn't give a resounding show at Madison Square Garden. And then the stock market crashes. By 1933, the Braddock family is barely surviving. Jimmy is decommissioned from boxing and out of credit. Yet, there is no lack of love in the family. Jimmy adores his wife, Mae (Renee Zellweger), two sons, and only daughter, "Little Rose." He affectionately encourages the family, tries hard to find daily work down at the docks, and even feigns fullness so that his children can eat his supper.

The oldest son steals some meat from the butcher, but Jimmy accompanies him to return it. He confesses that he's scared that if they completely run out of food, the children will be sent away. Jimmy grabs his son, holds him close, and promises never to send him away - no matter what. But things only get worse. At one point, the power is shut off, and the children are cold, sick, and hungry.  Mae wants to pray, but Jimmy replies, "I'm all prayed up." He has to humble himself to the point of shame to find a way to bring in enough money to buy electricity and groceries, and Mae has to make some hard decisions about the children.

Then, Jimmy gets a visit from his old manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti), who tells him that through a fluke, he'll get to fight a world-ranked contender, Corn Griffin. Best of all, he'll get a badly needed $250. To the world's astonishment, Braddock wins the fight. Though pounds lighter than his opponents and having broken his hands numerous times, Jimmy continues to fight against challengers - and win.

Carrying the hopes and dreams of the downtrodden masses, the boxer dubbed the "Cinderella Man" faces his toughest challenger in Max Baer, the heavyweight champion of the world. The problem is that Baer is renowned for having killed two men in the ring - literally jarring their brains loose. On the day of the big fight, Mae goes to church to pray and there finds an amazing surprise. The nation gathers around their radios, their hopes and fears riding on whether or not Braddock, the 10 to 1 underdog, will live through the night to give the world challenger a fight.

"Cinderella Man" is a delightful story that strikes a chord in the hearts of everyone who have ever competed, feared, or loved. It has history, romance, mystery, action, and intrigue - all rolled up in the stunning contrasts of a volatile and memorable decade.  

The biggest issue for concerned parents is that Jimmy's manager uses excessive foul language, with obscenities and profanities probably numbering 30 to 40 throughout the movie. Another issue is the sheer violence of the fights, which would likely be disturbing to young children, thus giving the film its PG-13 rating. Finally, despite the awesome prayers and faith of his wife, there is somewhat of a humanistic, "man can pull himself up through sheer determination and belief" tone to the Jimmy character.

On a positive note, the movie is an amazing study in the heart motivations of men vs. women. Mae says of Jimmy, "Every day they feel like they're failing us…" And Jimmy says regarding life's punches, "Let me take ‘em in the ring. At least I know who's hitting me." 

A definite blockbuster, Cinderella Man is captivating on many levels.


  • Drugs/Alcohol:  A few depictions of alcohol, mostly in pubs and restaurants; one man gets drunk, violent, and threatens his wife.
  • Language:  Excessive (30 to 40), but mostly from one man, who uses a number of profanities as well.
  • Sex:  None
  • Violence:  Excessive, but it's almost all in the boxing ring, with fighters giving each other black eyes, bloody faces, broken ribs, etc.