Saturday, January 15, 2005

Movie: Million Dollar Baby

After seeing "Million Dollar Baby," I find myself conflicted; about Clint Eastwood and about this movie. Generally, I don't think much of Eastwood's work, including "Unforgiven," which was essentially standard Clint that somehow got hyped up. I loved "Mystic River," though.

Half way through "Million Dollar Baby" thoughts of how Eastwood was able to make a boxing movie sweet and tender enter the mind. How often is one touched by the purchase of a speed bag. Humor is sprinkled gently in the most unsuspecting places and the growing bond between Hillary Swank's Maggie and Eastwood's Frankie Dunn is remarkable. Maggie needs someone to fill the hole of the father she has lost and the mother who is worthless, and Frankie finds a surrogate daughter that soothes his conscience over the blood daughter he is estranged from. Morgan Freeman as Scrap does his usually solid, yet restrained, job in a supporting role and narrator.

"Million Dollar Baby" sometimes slips into cliche in the first half of the story, with the barbaric champion Maggie strives to fight against as an example, but it develops a relationship that overcomes that and is true to life. Eastwood then gets to a point where he seems to sense that his film can become the typical, Hollywood fare or something different. He courageously chooses something different, but in the process loses himself and the story; becoming cliched anyway.

The last half of the film does not know what to do with itself and can't seem to figure out how to resolve the choice Eastwood makes. While the interactions between Frankie and Maggie continue to exist on a beautiful level, one can't help feeling cheated by Eastwood's direction for the film.

Hillary Swank, who has not been able to find a role worthy of her talent since "Boys Don't Cry," is given a superior role in this film as Maggie, and is again brilliant. I was impressed at how well Swank was able to sculpt her body into a boxer's fit, and looked the part so effectively. She deserves all the praise in the world for this performance. Swank is gifted in her ability to convey emotion and the trust that Maggie has in Frankie, and her love for him, can be seen in Swank's expressions alone; with no need for any words beyond "Yes, boss."

Clint Eastwood is understated as Frankie, and merits praise for his acting in the film. He does a solid job in the telling of this story, too, as well the mix of humor, tenderness and development, until shifting gears. Once he goes in this unexpected direction, one is left, well, conflicted. Deserving of commendation for not taking the easy way out, he is also guilty of losing control and sinking into something that seemed misguided. I am left unsure just how much to like or dislike this movie.

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