Bonus Points: DVD Reviews

Grab a Ringside Seat for 'Cinderella Man'

Cinderella Man
Russell Crowe bobs and weaves as James J. Braddock, the real-life "Cinderella Man." (George Kraychyk -- Universal Studios)
By Jen Chaney Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 6, 2005; 12:00 AM

"Cinderella Man" (List price: $29.98)
Release Date: Dec. 6

"Cinderella Man" tells a boxing story we've all heard before: Fighter gets knocked down, fighter struggles, fighter ultimately triumphs. Still, this gripping film manages to rise above other inside-the-ring tales, thanks to superb performances from Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti, deft and sensitive direction by Ron Howard and the knowledge that what's unfolding onscreen isn't just Hollywood hokum. With a few creative embellishments here and there, this movie depicts what actually happened to James J. Braddock, the celebrated athlete whose boxing comeback became a metaphor for hope during the Great Depression.

This double-sided DVD expands on that sense of history with a respectable set of extras that includes an interview with Howard Braddock, the fighter's son, and black-and-white footage of the famous bout between Braddock and Max Baer paired with analysis from Howard, producer Brian Grazer, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and writer/boxing enthusiast Norman Mailer. Of course, this material is offset by a few featurettes that fall into self-celebratory territory -- everyone involved in this project seems to worship at the altar of Russell Crowe -- but on the whole, "Cinderella Man" makes fully satisfying viewing. In addition to numerous behind-the-scenes mini-docs, the DVD includes six deleted scenes with optional commentary by Howard and three full-length commentary tracks, one each by Howard, Goldsman and co-screenwriter Cliff Hollingsworth.

The film also comes in a collector's edition ($44.98) padded with additional, enticing extras, such as more deleted scenes and a video diary created by Crowe. But given the impressive amount of material that comes with the regular version, most viewers will find that the less expensive "Cinderella Man" carries plenty of weight.

Oscar-worthy Bonus Point: During the introduction to the deleted scenes, Howard notes that he had a particularly tough time removing moments from this film because so many captured of them exceptional work by the actors. The best evidence of that comes in a deleted scene between Giamatti and Crowe, where Braddock learns from trainer Joe Gould that his fighting days are over. Played with heart-tugging but nuanced emotion by both stars, the powerful interaction was lost, Howard says, only because of an improvised, equally touching scene between Crowe and Renee Zellweger. Apparently this cast was too talented for its own good.

Most Bizarre Bonus Point: "It was the creepiest, weirdest feeling, especially when no one was around." So says Salvatore Totino, the director of photography on "Cinderella Man," as he explains that during the boxing scenes (shot on location at Toronto's Maple Leaf Garden), 12,000 inflatable dolls were used to fill the seats that couldn't be taken by extras. After seeing several seats occupied by blow-up human beings, you'll agree with Totino: It is creepy.

Crassest Bonus Point: Like me, you might click on the Kodak "Cinderella Man" Photo Gallery, hoping to see a slideshow of behind-the-scenes images. Like me, you'll quickly discover that said "gallery" is nothing more than a schmaltzy two-minute commercial for Kodak. And, like me, you may want to throw a camera at your television set.

Also New on DVD This Week: "24: Season Four" and "Fantastic Four."

If you have feedback about "Bonus Points" or want to suggest a DVD for review, e-mail Jen Chaney.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company