Sunday, February 06, 2005

"Million Dollar Baby": Some Thoughts

Clint Eastwood's latest magnum opus, Million Dollar Baby, has much to admire: terrific acting, a deliberate and engrossing pace, a real rooting interest for its characters, dollops of moral ambiguity and the powerfully brooding cinematography of Tom Stern.

It's an excellent film for what it is, yet I have to admit I don't share some of the critical zeal surrounding it.

OK Partisan, I think, makes some salient points in Blue Dot Blog. As she points out, Million Dollar Baby, at its heart, is a skillfully done -- albeit conventional (not that there's anything wrong with that) -- boxing movie.

While Eastwood and screenwriter Paul Haggis get plenty right, there's no denying that the movie trades in the currency of motion picture stereotypes: the crusty, psycholohgically wounded trainer with a heart of gold; the noble and wise old black man who's been around the block a few times (a character Morgan Freeman must have trademarked by now); the tough and scrappy gal determined rise above her modest origins; the white trash family (right down to the no-good jailbird brother) and the stupid Texan (OK, maybe some stereotypes actually are warranted) who thinks nothing of using the "N" word in a gym full of black boxers.

Although the film's third act takes a sharp turn, a few plot points up to that point are fairly routine -- at least, for anyone who has seen more than their fair share of flicks from Hollywood's Golden Age. All it takes is some quick sage advice from Frankie (Eastwood) for Maggie (Hilary Swank) to become the queen of first-round knockouts.

None of that obscures that very real triumph of Million Dollar Baby. All its performances are top notch, but Hilary Swank is particularly tremendous. And Eastwood lends the film a quiet, meditative tone that achieves the level of poetry.

As far as the creeping controversy over the eventual direction that the movie takes, you might check out Maureen Dowd's cutting -- and on-target -- views on the matter in The New York Times. MoDo disappoints more than she dazzles these days, so we'll be more than happy to give her props for this column. (Warning: Don't read if you haven't seen the film yet).


"I guess Shakespeare is pretty much out from now on. Ophelia drowns herself; Cleopatra kills herself with an assist from two asps; Lear's wretched daughter Goneril does herself in, as does Lady Macbeth. Brutus kills himself by running onto a sword held by his servant Strato (another assisted suicide), and his wife, Portia, dies by swallowing a burning coal; Othello stabs himself. And don't even start with the lurid family values in Greek drama and myth, rife with patricide, matricide, fratricide and incest."

For more on that topic, you also might consider Roger Ebert's recent commentary.


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