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Artwork copyright (c) 2005 Universal Studios; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Subtle but powerful score from Newman 


Ron Howard is often criticised (rightly, in my opinion) for his films being a little bit too lightweight and "nice", being pure surface-level stuff.  They frequently serve as fine pieces of entertainment but are often just a bit too sanitised to be completely satisfying; in Cinderella Man however, the director pulls no punches (if you'll excuse the pun).  Charting the rise, fall and rise again of boxer Jim Braddock in New York City during the Great Depression, it's quite a powerful film.  Like all sports movies, the ending is inevitable, so the trick is to do interesting things along the way, and the movie does just that, really delving into Braddock's psyche.  There are strong performances from Renee Zellwegger and Paul Giamatti, but especially from Russell Crowe, who is typically outstanding in the lead role.  Crowe is a real, old-fashioned movie star, able to come across as an everyman yet somehow seem larger than life at the same time.  If he'd been born 40 years earlier, there's surely no doubt he would have been in a whole host of John Ford-style movies.  What really separates him from the crowd, though, is quite simple - he can do that, but he can actually act as well, convincingly filling numerous very different roles.

Director Howard chose to break up his recent (fruitful) partnership with James Horner, which had covered his previous three movies, and turned instead to Thomas Newman, who had scored Gung Ho for the director almost two decades earlier.  About the most predictable thing about Newman scores is that they're going to be unpredictable, and Cinderella Man is as far away from the traditional flag-waving sports movie score as could be.  The composer chose to home in on Braddock's turmoil as he battled to scrape enough money together to provide for his family, and also during fights.  As such, this is frequently very dark, low-key music, functioning in the film to enhance the atmosphere without really being heard very often.

There are exceptions to this, such as when Newman introduces a wistful, nostalgic piano theme with just enough of an essence of hope.  Of course, Newman is not the sort of composer who overdoes the theatrics and so this nostalgia never gets particularly sentimental.  Only towards the score's conclusion, starting in "Big Right", does the score take on a more up-front role.  That cue sees a dark, rather fierce motif overtaken by one of combative spirit and, eventually, optimism, and signals the slightly more crowd-pleasing style of the last couple of tracks.  There is a subtle Irish influence present through much of the music, but of course Newman keeps this in check and weaves it into the music in a clever way which doesn't draw attention to itself (in stark contrast to the director's usual composer).  The titular twenty-third track is when the composer really lets the orchestra swell, but even here there is a sense of restraint which draws to mind the composer's outstanding finale music from The Shawshank Redemption.

Cinderella Man is just a little too low-key to be as enjoyable an album as several of Newman's recent efforts, but the composer must be applauded for going against the grain and writing a score like this for a film like this, because it fits perfectly.  As usual with Newman, the album mixes his score with some period tunes and, as usual, this does not work well - the clash of styles is far too absolute (and Newman's own style so singular and unmistakable) to make the album an enjoyable listen when going straight through, so to be experienced best, it must be programmed down to the score only.  Fans of the composer's scores for things like Shawshank and Road to Perdition will probably be highly impressed, although those attracted to him for his slightly showier works may find it too slow-going.  

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  1. The Inside Out (1:20)
  2. Shim-Me-Sha-Wobble Miff Mole and his Molers (1:03)
  3. Mae (1:16)
  4. Change of Fortune (1:15)
  5. Weehawken Ferry (2:43)
  6. Cold Meat Party (:40)
  7. All Prayed Out (2:38)
  8. Tillie's Downtown Now Bud Freeman and his Windy City Five (2:19)
  9. Three Bucks Twenty (1:01)
  10. Corn Griffin (1:12)
  11. Shoe Polish (:48)
  12. Londonderry Air Paul Giamatti (:27)
  13. The Hope of the Irish (:52)
  14. Hooverville Funeral (2:54)
  15. Fight Day (3:39)
  16. Good as Murder (:51)
  17. We've Got to Put That Sun Back in the Sky Roane's Pennsylvanians (1:27)
  18. No Contest (1:08)
  19. Pugilism (1:06)
  20. Bulldog of Bergen (1:42)
  21. Big Right (2:50)
  22. 9, 4, 2 Even (1:27)
  23. Cinderella Man (4:48)
  24. Turtle (3:21)
  25. Cheer Up!  Smile!  Nertz! Eddie Cantor (4:02)