Picture This! Reviews Million Dollar Baby
Worth every dime…
You have to admire a movie star/director who allows another actor to call him an “old man” on the big screen. In Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood plays Frankie, the worn down trainer with the weight of the world on his shoulders as a tired, crotchety old man. And he’s joined on screen by another actor who’s willing to look old and tired and a bit round through the middle. Though neither Morgan Freeman nor Eastwood ever reached the heavyweight division in real life, on screen they create a presence that dares anyone to share the screen.
But stand back gentlemen. Hilary Swank, as waitress/boxer Maggie Fitzgerald, steps into this ring of talent with such believability that one forgets that Baby is basically a three person drama. There are a few other characters that drop in on screen – a marginally intelligent street kid, a contending boxer, a frustrated priest, and a gaggle of familial misfits that are so outrageous they’re believable. Each in his or her way adds a layer of emotional pathos.
But Million Dollar Baby has the Eastwood touch stamped on every frame. The script by Paul Haggis (based on the story by F.X. Toole) has just the right amount of humor to mask the tragedy.
If Baby has a familiar look and feel, it’s because Eastwood’s cinematographer, Tom Stern, and editor, Joel Cox, have been on his team for awhile, most recently Mystic River. The shadows, the cuts, even the starkness of the hospital room compliment the action. Even Eastwood’s original music manages to avoid the cliché boxing training hype that worked well in the original Rocky but seldom since.
But Million Dollar Baby really isn’t about boxing. It’s about testing your self, striving for a goal, believing in something.
Freeman is the essence of what acting should be. He always raises the level of the material, even when he has much less to work with than in this picture. As a director, Eastwood has the intelligence to ask his leading man (himself) to take a step back and let the kid have the picture.
Hilary Swank is no kid. If her acting chops were ever in question, her transformation, both physical and emotional, to boxer Maggie goes beyond the scope of playing a part. She’s awesome.
One might think Million Dollar Baby is a “downer” because the ending (or last quarter) of the film doesn’t have the aforementioned Rocky ending. But Eastwood’s picture demands reflection. If success is in the trying, not in the winning, then the outcome can be viewed as a positive slice of reality – maybe not pretty, but positive.
Rebecca Redshaw is the Arts& Entertainment Critic for www.NotesFromHollywood.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.