Cinderella Man is a 2005 biographical drama film directed and produced by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger, and Paul Giamatti. It is based on the true life story of James J. Braddock—an Irish American boxer and heavyweight champion. The film is set during the Great Depression and describes many of the economic as well as emotional hardships that the American people went through. For instance, Braddock and his family struggle to make a living and put food on the table, which was often the case for a lot of families during the Great Depression. As the stock market crashed, many businesses failed, and the banks closed. Many people lost their savings, their jobs, and even their homes. Thus, they tried to provide for themselves and their families by finding small, underpaid jobs and usually worked as laborers, repairmen, or farmers and/or depended on government help.
Braddock tries to find work as a dockworker, loading and unloading cargo; however, he has a broken hand, and, just like the majority of the men, he can’t always succeed in getting the job. Braddock manages to make a lot of money and gain a lot of popularity by becoming a boxer, but this is a rare occurrence. Many people struggled to survive and even tried to take their own lives or harm others in order to get some money or find work, which is also showcased in the movie when a man pulls out a gun and threatens to harm the employer if he doesn’t give him the job. Braddock actually agrees to become a boxer and potentially risk his health and life, because the daily hardships and struggles he has gone through have toughened him up and basically made him fearless.
Although Cinderella Man is a rags-to-riches boxing story, it provides a look into Depression-era difficulties for working-class families. As many people lost their jobs, the drastic drop in income forced many people out of their homes. This happened to the Braddock family, which had to move to a small apartment. Many businesses closed, employers downsized, wages declined, and jobs became scarce. With poor health insurance and little worker's compensation for injured workers, even those with minor disabilities could be considered unemployable. This occurred when James Braddock injured his hand. Eventually he found strenuous work—so much so that the risk of boxing looked better.
The story of James Braddock is heavily laden with hardships faced during the Depression. In the opening scene, the Braddock family does not have much to eat, as economic stress has placed its grip on the family unit. When their child asks for more food, Jimmy concocts a story how in his dream he had a huge steak with George Raft and other Hollywood celebrities and "was stuffed." At the same time, Mae, Braddock's wife, has to dilute the milk with water in order to maximize its use. There are other realities conveyed through the film, as well. When Braddock lines up at the docks for work, the foreman asks for "five" or needs "ten" workers out of a field of hundreds who clamor at the gate for a shot at a day's work. While working on the dock one day, Mike, a friend of Jimmy, notices his broken hand while working and tells him in a heartbreaking manner, "I need this job, man." Finally, when Jimmy's son talks of friends being sent away because of financial hardship, James looks at his son, dead on, and says that he is not sending his child away. Probably the best and most telling aspect of the life of the Great Depression would be when Braddock agrees to fighting Max Baer, Heavyweight champion of the world. When explaining why he feels no fear, Braddock argues that when working people have to struggle and, in cases like Mike's, die for work, for money, for a job, little else can be feared as Jimmy argues working on the docks is far worse than anything Baer can throw at him.