If there’s a pattern to Ron Howard’s increasingly distinguished oeuvre, it’s a commitment to classic Hollywood-styled craftsmanship and humane storytelling. With Depression-era boxing biopic “Cinderella Man,” Howard reassembled the Oscar-winning team behind 2002’s “A Beautiful Mind”: producer Brian Glazer, writer Akiva Goldsman and lead player Russell Crowe. Simultaneously lush and gritty, the film received strong reviews (“an unflinching and historically rich rendering of an amazing story,” wrote the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mike LaSalle) but Universal might have miscalculated by releasing such a solemn work in the midst of summer popcorn season, resulting in disappointing B.O.
GENESIS: ” ‘Cinderella Man’ had been floating about Hollywood for a while. I had heard about it, but never read it. Russell (Crowe) mentioned it to me after the release of ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and as soon as I had finished it I knew it was a role that would be great for him. Then I heard Renee (Zellwegger) was interested as well. I’d been wanting to work with her for quite a while and thought they’d be spectacular together. I had also really wanted to do a Depression-era film that wasn’t a bank robbery movie and wasn’t a dust bowl picture. I’d tried to develop a couple of projects along these lines, but I could never quite solve them. It was the combination of these things that pretty much sealed the deal for me.”
VISION: “The husband and wife story was the soul of the movie. It was the Everyman’s side of things. It wasn’t an idealized relationship, it was this real, palpable love they felt for each other. That love was the foundation of their survival and that love was the foundation of the film.”
CHALLENGES: “I was intimidated by the genre. There are so many great boxing films and that was my real hesitation in agreeing to make this one. I did a tremendous amount of research. I put a reel together of every frame of boxing that’s ever been in a movie — good movies and bad, it didn’t matter. I got a lot of inspiration from ‘Ali’ and a lot from ‘Killer’s Kiss,’ but this film was different from those. This film had 15 cumulative rounds of boxing and I wanted each round to tell a different story. It’s funny now, because, in the end, it’s the boxing scenes that I’m the most proud of.”
MAGIC: “I was really surprised by how much humor and charm Russell was able to generate from Braddock. I knew he had the power and the strength for this role, but I didn’t expect some of the laughs. I just didn’t think he’d be as entertaining as he was — that, and some of the improvised moments between Russell and Renee. They’re both very creative actors, so long before we began (cinematographer) Salvatore (Totino) and I decided to shoot it with three cameras and to keep them running as much as we could. My favorite moment in the film is one where Russell comes home — his hand is broken, his boxing license has been revoked — and after we shot the take, Russell started to well up. Renee saw it and shouted ‘No!’ and then jumped in his lap. It’s the truest moment in the movie. I’m just glad that we still had a camera rolling.”
NEXT: “Well, I just got back from shooting ‘The Da Vinci Code’ in France and now I’m locked in an editing room with the footage.”