Cinderella Man by: Ben Shaw

Posted: September 6, 2012 by jperritt in Drama
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cinderella Man is about the life and career of depression era heavy weight boxer James Braddock (Russell Crowe).  I love this movie for a lot of reasons. I’m a guy, and so I like movies with an underdog-overcomes-against-all-odds, especially when there is some sort of revenge against ‘the man’ and with a few hand-to-hand combat scenes. But I also really love it when you come away from these movies motivated to do something besides train for a triathlon (because your wife won’t let you join fight-club and your age and half-dozen orthopedic surgeries keep you out of the navy seals). We all want to be tough when we leave these movies. My mom kept my brothers and me separated or on constant surveillance after seeing each installment of the Karate Kid. Otherwise, we would set up our own All-Valley Karate tournament, or practice the drum technique, or honk each other’s noses.

Anyway, I loved Cinderella Man because I came away with a good dose of “JOIN the GYM!” but also huge doses of “be grateful for what you have” and “having a family is awesome”.  This is similar to when I left The Patriot and thought, “I can’t wait to have a family” more than “I can’t wait to fight in battle where a cannon ball might roll through my leg!”

My favorite scene* in Cinderella Man (maybe 12 minutes into the film) is when Braddock takes his son to the butcher shop to return a stolen salami. “J” (Braddock’s older son) had seen a few of his friends sent off to the countryside to stay with relatives. Feeding children during the depression was no doubt more difficult in New York City than in more rural surrounding areas. Braddock would hide his broken hand and look for work on the loading docks by day and look for opportunities to make money as a boxer at night, all to keep his family warm and well fed.  Nevertheless J felt the pressure to contribute to the pantry, lest he and his siblings become too much of a burden.

When Braddock takes J to return the salami he realizes some of what is behind J’s behavior.  The exchange outside the butcher shop goes like this…

Braddock: “I know things ain’t easy…there’s people out there that got it a lot worse than we do…but what you did is stealing…do you understand that?
…We don’t steal…ever….you giving me your word?”
Boy: “I promise”
Braddock: “and I promise that we will never send you away”

Braddock then offers the boy a hand-shake, instead the boy jumps into his Dad’s arms weeping and is carried home. (most of us are weeping here too)

This is a vivid picture of the type of covenant love that the Heavenly Father has for his children and the gospel obedience that flows from it.

Braddock helps the boy identify that what he did was wrong. Then he says something about the boy’s identity (“we don’t steal”). He even makes him say it out loud. While it seems like a simple contract on the surface, it is different.  He makes his own promise that the boy will “NEVER” be sent away from his Father.  He did not say, “So help me boy if you keep stealing and embarrassing your mom like that I’ll send you to your Aunt’s house in the country.” No, he says, “I will never send you away.”

The beautiful thing is that any obedience that flows from this interaction will be grounded in the promise that the boy’s place near the father is secure NOT in the fear that at any moment he could be on a train out of town.

“Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God.”  (1 John 3:1)

In Galatians 4, the apostle Paul distinguishes a slave from a son reminding us that we have received the spirit of adoption. This means that we are no longer slaves and our relationship to the Master no longer hangs on our performance. A slave always has the threat that a misstep will set him at odds forever with the master. We tend to return to that principle often, like the Galatians did. So then our obedience stems from fear and is not only false but also exhausting. Available to us are the loving and carrying arms of a Father who has promised that He will never send us away.  That is what defines us. That is what motivates obedience.

Romans 8:14-17 says:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (ESV)

The promises that God made to us were not sealed with a handshake or even a hug, but certainly not less than these. God redeems us with the blood of Christ, making us his children. This love commands our obedience but when we are seeing most clearly we realize that our loving Father wants what is best for us and is working that out in us by our sanctification.

*There are also incredible scenes in which Braddock’s wife encourages her husband in a beautiful and biblical way and other displays of strength, humility, loyalty, and perseverance throughout.  


Rev. Ben Shaw is the RUF campus minister at the University of Southern Mississippi. He and his wife Marianna have a little boy named Benji who will be 1 in August. Besides watching the Olympics and driving around with his family in their minivan, he also loves loves golf, bicycles, and mexican food.


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