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"Million Dollar Baby"

Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Written by Paul Haggis.  Based on short stories by F.X. Toole.
Starring Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  1/18/05


I hadn't read any reviews about "Million Dollar Baby" but it's impossible to escape the hype madness of a film by Clint Eastwood any more...since most of them are at least kinda good.  The one thing that I love about his films, like "Heartbreak Ridge" or "Unforgiven" or "Mystic River", is that the pacing is almost always perfect.  Shootouts always feel more realistic in an Eastwood film.  People don't always say the right things at just the right times, like they do in real life.  Characters that make mistakes aren't always given the chance to redeem themselves in the last frame.

"Million Dollar Baby", about a boxer named Maggie (Hilary Swank) that seeks out the training of legendary trainer and "cut man" Frankie Dunn (Eastwood), is a perfect film in this respect:  there's no real pomp-and-circumstance to the whole thing, it just kind of happens.  Okay, it's a bit too cliché to have the trailer-trash boxer go from rags to riches, so how about we just make her rags-to-Ross?  We won't go all the way to that silver spoon level...we'll just make her semi-successful, never quite realizing Tatiana Ali-like levels, all the while learning life's lessons in and out of the ring.  And, Eastwood sure does look old once again in "Million Dollar Baby", but the nuances of his voice work (who would have ever thought that was possible) make for some sensitive moments later in the film.  Rounding out the starting lineup is Morgan Freeman, working with Eastwood a second time following their work together in "Unforgiven."  As Frankie's best/only friend, Freeman plays Scrap, a man who were it not for a boxing ring firmly planted in each frame would look exactly like Red from a little prison drama from years ago, right down to the last bite of the fat that he seems to be chewing shot-to-shot.

I had to say it to my friend Mike "Yac" Iacovone (happy new year, my friend) after it was over:  has any other actor in history been able to chew up valuable screen minutes looking off in the distance like Morgan Freeman?  The master of the art form does it so well here, in so many different ways:  sitting on bleachers, sitting in Frankie's recliner, sitting on an old cot watching a title fight.  And every time Freeman does it, you are utterly captivated by the act; you watch him reach into his pocket to try and pay a tab, and you actually feel surprised when he doesn't pay it.  You watch him bury his head in his hands and you are convinced no one has, could or would ever bury his head with such conviction as Freeman does in this film.

But, because Freeman fits so well in the Eastwood formula, it's as seamless a process as elves packing the sleigh.  It's why Swank seems so effortless in this role, even though it must have been hard work training to become a boxer that looks so credible in the part.  It's why supporting characters don't try to take over the film; although their effect on the film is alternately devastating or hilarious, almost none of them makes any short-term impression, which makes all of them look good when the final credits roll.  The other actresses playing boxers Maggie has to face were great; the athletes that train in Frankie's gym do just enough to register; even the city where the gym is seems vaguely like five other major American cities, although I don't remember ever hearing where the action takes place.

Through all of this, Eastwood seems to keep the film around 140 minutes but brisk enough that you never get bored.  He was wise to give us just enough fights to keep you on edge, and enough variety between Frankie's home life and the sheer lack of one for Maggie.  I would tell you more (like my friend Erin did the other night...setting the tone for my being ready for anything!!!), but I don't want to ruin anything for you.  Suffice it to say, it's not your everyday boxing movie.

I have to admit, "Million Dollar Baby" was great stuff.  You're right, I will probably not need to watch it again, but it was magnificent while I was sitting on my patient ass.  What's left that the great Clint can't do?

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09