Friday, December 30, 2005

Cinderella Man (2005)

I saw this on the airplane last night, so it might have been missing a few things due to editing. However...

Awesome. This is probably the best movie I've seen all year.

I think the reason I didn't care to see this movie when it came out is because of the title. Something about it just doesn't appeal to me. It makes the movie sound like a romantic comedy or some kind of love story. It is a love story at times, but that element is not the most important element. The main focus is boxing and the Great Depression.

The Depression has become an era we probably don't think possible in these days of irrational exuberance. Probably about 45 minutes of the movie shows Braddock, a down and out fighter who lost his boxing license, trying to get a day's work at the docks. The men would gather outside the gate and hope to get picked by the manager. After a couple of fights that Braddock won on his comeback, the manager pulls him aside and asks him if he was the guy mentioned in the paper. Braddock says he was. Then the manager says, "Well, good job, now go get back to work [moving bags of goods for pennies on the dollar]."

The Depression seems unimaginable, but this movie does an amazing job of showing us what it was like. Braddock had made pretty good money as a boxer before 1929, and then lost it all in stocks to the point where he couldn't pay the electricity bill.

However, as with all docudramas, we again are wondering how much of the story told is really true. The first thing I wondered was whether Russell Crowe is considerably wimpier than the real James J. Braddock. The answer is no. Actually Russell Crowe is probably more buff than this guy was.

I think this movie's main issue with the truth is around Max Baer. First of all, his physique: the actor who played him was huge compared to Crowe. In actuality, Baer does not look that much bigger than Braddock did. He was about 10lbs heavier. Nearby is a picture of their fight.

Note another thing about this picture that isn't obvious in the movie: the Star of David on Baer's shorts. Let's not forget that Baer had defeated Hitler's boy Max Schmeling in Yankee Stadium -- and wore the Star of David when he did it. He swore to wear it in every fight thereafter. However, it's bizarrely missing from this movie (apparently it is there, but so imperceptible as to not be there).

Baer is made out to be a happy killer because he killed Frankie Campbell in the ring--but actually he was very upset about it.

Baer is clearly the most misrepresented thing about the film, I'd say to the point where the filmmakers should be ashamed for demonizing him.

More on the true story of Baer and this movie:

Finally, it should be noted that this movie demonstrates something we've completely lost in the United States: boxing as a real sport. Boxing is pretty amazing to watch and to listen to, and in the days of yore, it represented a cultural and ethnic phenomenon. Can you imagine witnessing Baer, with a Star of David on his shorts, defeating Hitler's boxer Max Schmeling? Or Joe Louis doing the same thing? Boxing was a sport that went far beyond the ring in those days. It represented a battle, with a group of people identifying with and rooting for one of their own. Boxing has gone far, far away from that. Today it is just an illusion that makes Pay Per View money from poor slobs that are hoping for a meaningful boxing match, of which the 1930s seemed to have an endless number.

Rating: Good/Good... but the historical accuracy could use some work. Probably worth seeing on film if you still can.

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