I love many different movies. But I’m a sucker for inspirational sports films. Remember the Titans, The Blind Side, the Rocky series to name a few. But even though Cinderella Man is an inspirational sports movie, it just seems to hit me differently. I normally don’t get emotional at movies, but by the end of Cinderella Man I’m at least misting up if not flat out crying. Every time. That’s when you know a movie and its actors and crew, have done the job that art is supposed to do. Music, dance, art painted on a canvas, and truly great films all touch something deep at our core. They touch our humanity. They touch the deepest part of our souls and resonate with us.
Russell Crowe, Renee Zellwegger and Paul Giamatti are masterful as Jim Braddock, Mae Braddock and trainer Joe Gould. They make the characters they’re portraying relatable. The desperate boxer just trying to do his duty as a father and husband. The loving and devoted wife who cannot bear to listen to her husband’s fights on the radio, let alone watch them in person. And the salty trainer with the mouth of a sailor, but a heart of gold who loves his friend.
It’s that relatability that keeps bringing me back to the story of a tough as nails boxer from North Bergen, New Jersey. Relatability resonates with me when it comes to the story of James Walter Braddock. I certainly did not live during the Great Depression. Let alone try to provide for a wife and three children in that mess. The people who lived during the Great Depression are the toughest people I’ve ever heard of. Jim Braddock was one of those people. People who are part of The Greatest Generation will always have my utmost respect.
But I relate to Jim the most on a human level when he waits for his big break and is struggling to find work or another fight. He simply wants another opportunity. Another chance. While the Coronavirus pandemic is no Great Depression, I realize that I am one of millions struggling in the same situation, like Jim was back in his day.
The importance of having family and friends in uncertain and rough times also hits home for me. As much as I have struggled to get a lucky break and find a job, I have always had my family and friends behind me. In the same way, for as much as Jim struggled before he got his chance, he always had the love and support of his wife Mae and three children Jay, Howard and Rosemarie.
Jim’s big break comes when he fills in to fight John “Corn” Griffin on a day’s notice. He’s expected to be little more than a glorified sparring partner for Griffin, who is a serious contender for the World Heavyweight Championship. Instead, Jim knocks him out cold! This also resonates with me personally, because once Jim got his big break, he was hungry, ran with it, and made good on it. Before long he gets on a winning streak, knocking out fighters such as John Henry Lewis and Art Lasky which catches the eye of the World Champion, Max Baer.
I wonder what went through Jim’s mind as he was preparing for the biggest fight of his life? He was simply trying to feed his family with the Corn Griffin fight. He didn’t expect it to go anywhere. But yet here he was. A crowd of 50,000 or so saw him swap punches at Madison Square Garden with a big, powerful, hard-hitting man who had at least 20 pounds on him, under the brightest lights in the world. After 15 brutal rounds, Jim Braddock was declared the winner by unanimous decision, and the new Heavyweight Champion of the World! This scene in Cinderella Man always gets me choked up:
Watch that and tell me you have dry eyes. The beautiful music, gravity of the moment, and the fact that a heavy underdog won, always gets me. So many people also saw Jim’s win as much more than simply winning a boxing match. People needed a hero. They needed someone to root for and place their hope in. Especially at a time when America was really struggling and down on herself.
45 years before the United States Hockey Team defeated the Soviet Union in New York, Jim Braddock defeated Max Baer in one of the greatest upsets in sports history. But in both cases, Americans were given unlikely heroes they could rally around at the time they needed them the most. Perhaps our country will be given a new hero for our time? We can only hope. We certainly need one.
Cinderella Man is a complete movie. It shows the tough and gritty atmosphere of 1930’s New Jersey, presents Jim Braddock and his family and friends as everyday people, and shows just what somebody can do when given an opportunity. I highly recommend that people watch this. Especially if they’re feeling down on their luck in today’s uncertain times. If Jim Braddock made his way out of his struggles, we all can make it out of our struggles too!