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MILLION DOLLAR BABY (PG-13) (2005)

Warner Bros.

Official Site

Director: Clint Eastwood

Producers: Clint Eastwood, Paul Haggis, Tom Rosenberg, Albert S. Ruddy

Written by: Paul Haggis; from stories by F.X. Toole

Cast: Hillary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman

Rating:


Arriving in theaters on the tails of winning the Golden Globe, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Directors Guild Awards for the year’s best achievement in directing, the iconic Clint Eastwood has created an instant classic with Million Dollar Baby. Much like he did with his multiple-Oscar-winning masterpiece from 1992, Unforgiven, once again Eastwood demonstrates that he knows how to dance around clichés rather than embracing them. This is no Rocky or Raging Bull, though those were great films in their own way. The fact is, Million Dollar Baby isn’t really a movie about boxing. It’s a film about suffering, redemption, hope, and friendship. Nothing in the story’s finale is hinted at during the course of the movie, and when the end arrives it hits you with the blinding power of one of Muhammed Ali’s jaw-breaking left hooks. MDB’s predictability quotient: absolutely zero.

The story is small, its characters simple. Its haunting, spare beauty is reminiscent of some of Europe’s best dramas, with nary a whisper of a Hollywood sucker punch. In particular, Eastwood’s moral questioning and complicated relationship with a young cleric brings to mind the painful psychology of Ingmar Bergman.

The pace of the film may leave some audience members squirming in their seats because they’ve been conditioned to sit back and let filmmakers bludgeon them with breathless, rapid-fire editing and loud, obnoxious sound effects. Thankfully, Eastwood, unlike most directors (in Hollywood or elsewhere), lets his film breathe. With moments of silence illuminated by faces in silhouette or cloaked in shadows, Eastwood retreats to a distant neverland of classic black-and-white cinema (though MDB is shot in color, it has the feel of a old B&W film). Finally, the quiet beauty of the film’s musical score (composed by Eastwood himself) adds an effective layer of poignancy that might have suffocated under the blustering orchestras of almost any other Hollywood drama.

Hilary Swank plays Maggie Fitzgerald, a 31-year-old waitress from the Missouri Ozarks who has come to California with dreams of a better life, or at least one that doesn’t involve bearing six children, getting fat, and eking out a welfare existence in a trailer park with a lazy, beer-guzzling, wife-beater for a husband. As she says in the film, boxing is the only thing that makes her feel good about herself, the only thing that makes her happy. She is determined to secure Eastwood’s grizzly trainer/manager Frank Dunn as her personal coach to find her glory inside the ring, even if Frankie can’t stand the thought of training a woman. Swank, in ripping physical condition, is magnificent as the naive but tough young boxer, and she should take home a second Oscar for her heartfelt performance.

Playing opposite Eastwood like he did in Unforgiven, the ever-magnificent Morgan Freeman inhabits his narrator/buddy role like a pair of well-worn, comfortable shoes. His voice lifts the story to heights reminiscent of the glorious voiceover of his convicted felon in 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption. Freeman’s Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris has some sort of complicated, unfortunate history with Eastwood’s Dunn. But the banter between the two grizzled boxing veterans plays out with a wisecracking warmth that adds yet another layer of entertaining honesty to this character-driven drama.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Clint Eastwood cry. Here, his tears are so real, so affecting, that I paused to wonder what motivation helped bring him to such deep, penetrating sadness on camera. He’s a great actor in this film, surely the finest performance of his legendary career. There is a moment late in the film when the look on his face and the despair in his old eyes paralyzed me with a kind of suffering reflection that I have rarely felt watching a movie. Once again, it came unexpectedly, and it left me marveling at the beauty of honesty, at the touching relief of reality in its darkest, most human form.

—Tiffany Crouch Bartlett

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



Pink Floyd

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