Tuesday, March 2, 2010

God, I Still Hate This Movie: Million Dollar Baby

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 24 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Running time: 137 minutes
MPAA – PG-13 for violence, some disturbing images, thematic material, and language
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
WRITER: Paul Haggis (based upon short stories by F.X. Toole)
PRODUCERS: Clint Eastwood, Paul Haggis, Tom Rosenberg, and Albert S. Ruddy
EDITOR: Joel Cox
Academy Award winner including “Best Motion Picture of the Year”


Starring: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Jay Baruchel, Mike Colter, Lucia Rijker, Brian (F.) O’Byrne, Anthony Mackie, Margo Martindale, Riki Lindhome, Michael Pena, and Benito Martinez

Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is a crusty boxing trainer with a rep as a great cut man (fixing bloody cuts, bruises, and orifices during fights). Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) is in her early 30’s, and her boxing career has lasted because of her raw talent, unshakable focus, and tremendous force of will. Maggie shows up at Frankie’s gym one day and eventually asks him to train her, but he brushes her off because, as he tells her, she is too old and he doesn’t train girls. Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman), Frankie’s longtime friend and the janitor/maintenance man of Frankie’s gym, encourages Maggie to chase her dream. Frankie managed Eddie in the distant past, and Eddie nudges Frankie towards training Maggie. Eventually, Maggie’s spirit and gutsy determination do win over Frankie, and he agrees to train her. They bond, and she rapidly climbs the ranks of women boxers. However, sudden tragedy strikes, and it will test the bond between a girl trying to replace her late, beloved father and a man left lonely by the estrangement of his only daughter.

I really didn’t connect with Million Dollar Baby. From the first frame, I knew that I wouldn’t care for or like this movie. Clint Eastwood’s performance has its moments, but I had to labor to find anything worth paying attention to beneath his gruff exterior, scowling, and gravelly voice. Sometimes, Eastwood’s best moments were quite and subtle – a glance, an expression, or stillness. It didn’t help that there were two raspy-voiced old men in the film. Morgan Freeman’s performance also alternated between flat and lukewarm. He has a few glorious moments (as when he teaches a lesson to an arrogant boxing trainee), but his voiceover reminded me of Harrison Ford’s listless and reluctant voiceover for Blade Runner. Freeman deserves an Oscar, and if he gets it for Million Dollar Baby, it will be a career achievement award because he doesn’t give an award-winning turn in Baby. [Freeman did go on to win an Oscar for this role.]

Hilary Swank, who won an Oscar for her leading role, is pretty good here. She gives a sense of solidness and realness to her gutsy hick girl character, but playing streetwise or common sense hayseeds seems her specialty. Her performance is more like a cakewalk than an achievement. She does, however, shine in the moments when she really has to bring the heat, as in the scene with Maggie’s family. Other than that, Ms. Swank is only a little above ordinary.

Million Dollar Baby is long and morbid, and it reeks of being one of those films made to get awards. In that vein, it reminds me of another overwrought Oscar-winner wannabe, The Hours from 2002. The script, by Emmy-winner Paul Haggis, is a bunch of re-cooked fairytales – the scrappy rural type that comes to the city to make it, the lost father finding redemption in a surrogate, and the wise old black man or (as Spike Lee says) Magical Negro. Eastwood doesn’t do a lot to make this really good, but his score for this film is very, very nice. That and a few other things make Million Dollar Baby decent enough to be a nice film to rent on DVD, but isn’t worthy of being a big award winner.

5 of 10

2005 Academy Awards: 4 wins – “Best Picture of the Year” (for which the Academy only recognizes Eastwood, Rosenberg, and Ruddy as producers), “Best Achievement in Directing,” “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Hilary Swank), and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Morgan Freeman); 4 nominations: “Best Achievement in Editing,” “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Clint Eastwood), and “Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published.”

2005 Golden Globes: 2 wins “Best Director – Motion Picture” and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Hilary Swank); 3 nominations for “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Clint Eastwood); “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” and (Morgan Freeman)

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