cindellra.jpgBasically Cinderella Man is a solidly told true story of the depression and the power of sport to inspire people. But it came at the wrong time, with the wrong subject and probably the wrong cast to explode at the box office. Perhaps that is how Ron Howard designed it – to be a sleeper hit in waiting: though one thinks probably not as The Da Vinci Code seems to be his stab at revenge at the cinema going public for not going to see it.

On the one hand you have an inspirational story of Jim Braddock, a failed boxer, who having blown his chance, broken his hand and had his licence to box removed, suddenly returns to the ring for a second chance. He’s a decent Irish chap, having lost everything in the Depression which gives us a relatively unusual backdrop: plus all the action a boxing film can offer us. Fidelity with his wife perhaps lacks sex appeal, but this is all part of the decent little man beating the system that did him down. Indeed this is a film about dignity (clearly the worst thing that can happen to our hero is not being destitute, starving or injured, but having to BEG FOR MONEY). I enjoyed it despite myself, my parent enjoyed it despite themselves and that seems to be the general story of Cinderella Man: so why did it flop?

Simple: no-one wanted to see a boxing film set in the depression starring Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger. Never mind that Howard and Crowe’s previous film had scored plenty of Oscar’s*. Never mind Zellweger coming off her Oscar**. Never mind the true story. Maybe mind the title: one which was unclear on subject and suggested it might be the tale of an ordinary Joe who had been bitten by a radioactive fairy tale. It was summer 2005 and a sturdy depression based drama did not chime. Winter 2006, with shit on the TV, it suddenly becomes a different prospect. Solid, well-made, potentially entertaining means you’ll give the first ten minutes a spin and will keep you there. Nevermind the soft soaping of Hooverville, the family first homilies and strange slow motion punching actions more befitting a video game. Howard tells a story like a 1950’s film, which is not all bad. But no-one went to see it. But its lowest common denominator trapping of skill (by no means bad things) will get word of mouth passed around.

As suggested above, this lack of success probably pissed off Ron Howard no end, and so he attacked The Da Vinci Code with his customary skill: for better or worse making a film exactly as good as the book. And perhaps that is what Howard is useful: he is our big budget director who can make the solid, well made, dramas that the US film industry needs to feel there is some heritage of making those kind of films.

Also, he does the voice-over to Arrested Development, which is no bad thing!

*Or maybe that was the point. Did anyone really like A Beautiful Mind? The lousy maths kept putting me off.

**A hilarious if not exactly Oscar worthy huffing and puffin’ turn in Cold Mountain.

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