Many so-called Cinderella stories involve legend and courage. What makes “Cinderella Man” different is its grit. It depicts a struggle full of despair and suffering, which creates real tension and sympathy. The fights in the movie are visceral and pack a real punch; every hit hurts. (Yes, I did wince during the movie. It would have been embarrassing except that my sister was even worse, she just closed her eyes.) World heavyweight champ Max Baer (Braddock’s final opponent) says it perfectly when he threatens, “People die in fairy tales.” It is the pain and risk that makes the movie so truly triumphant.
Our Cinderella man is hit with a streak of losses in his fights and by the Depression. With little work available, lots of bills to pay, and a wife and three children to support, Braddock finds himself between a rock and a hard place, like millions of others during this time. With a bad record, he loses his license to box. When he gets a second chance, he becomes a symbol of hope and a legend to those struggling to get through the Depression.
The question is, can he take that second chance and win? Strange as it may seem in a Cinderella story, that question actually stays a question throughout the movie.
Supporting Braddock in his fight for survival are his wife, Mae (RenEe Zellweger) and his manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti), a man living in an expensive but empty apartment in an attempt to keep up appearances. A very brunette Zellweger provides an even and satisfactory performance in a somewhat simplistic, though in no way shallow, character. She is rather overshadowed, however, by her two co-stars, Crowe and Giamatti.