Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Margo Martindale, Lucia Rijker
Clint Eastwood is one of the best American film makers around, and as he gets older, he also seems to get better. Now the wrong side of 70, he is aware that he can no longer play the action hero so he has turned his hand to making more subtle and mature dramas, of which Mystic River has been the peak. It was unfortunate that it got unjustly steamrollered by the Lord Of The Rings juggernaut at last year’s Oscars – in any other year it would have been a worthy winner. However, this year he has another shot at Oscar glory with his new film Million Dollar Baby, arguably, the finest film of his lengthy career!
Eastwood also delivers the best performance of his career, a poignant and powerfully introspective turn as Frank Dunn, a world weary trainer haunted by his past failings, who finally finds peace with himself. Dunn manages a run down gym in LA, where a number of dead beats come to work out and dream of what might have been. After he loses a potential champion when he is reluctant to give him a title bout, Dunn somewhat reluctantly agrees to take on Maggie Fitzpatrick (Hilary Swank). Desperate to escape her humble trailer park origins and the family from hell, Maggie is set on becoming a champion female boxer. All she needs is someone to believe in her and train her. Dunn is estranged from his own daughter, who returns all his letters unopened, and through Maggie he finds a chance to become a surrogate father and atone for the failings of his past. Maggie has a tremendous ability to knock out her opponents in the first round of a fight, and the only real challenge to her title aspirations seems to come from an unbeaten German boxer (four time world champion Lucia Rijker), with a reputation for fighting dirty.
Million Dollar Baby is a boxing movie, sure, but it is also so much more! While at first glance this seems like just another boxing picture, it is so much more than that. Initially Million Dollar Baby seems like a reworking of Girlfight (the Michelle Rodriguez film from a couple of years ago), and then it seems to become a Rocky-like tale of the underdog triumphing. Just when you think you have the film pigeonholed, Eastwood brilliantly pulls the rug from under your feet, and pushes the film in a completely different and unexpected direction.
Million Dollar Bay is a subtle, moving and heartfelt work, and Eastwood masterfully directs Paul Haggis’ beautifully layered and textured script. The film also benefits from the superb performances that Eastwood teases from his brilliant cast. Swank is superb as Maggie, bringing a level of raw physicality but also surprising vulnerability to the role. Morgan Freeman brings his usual grace and dignity to his role as Scrap, an ex-boxer and Dunn’s best friend and sage advisor, who also acts as the film’s narrator. In lesser hands this role could have become something of a thankless cliche, but Freeman makes the most of his couple of showy scenes.
Atypical of your usual Eastwood film, it explores big themes like failure, family, fulfilling your hopes and dreams, and redemption. By the heart-wrenching conclusion it will move even some of the more cynical filmgoers! Leave your preconceived ideas at the cinema door and you will find yourself pleasantly surprised and moved. Let’s face it, when was the last time a Clint Eastwood movie brought a lump to your throat or reduced you to tears?