Million Dollar Melodrama
Warning: Don’t expect another Rocky when you see MillionDollar Baby. There are some exciting boxing scenes, but this film is mostly a melodrama about the relationship between a woman raised in poverty who wants to prove herself as a boxer and the grizzled old gym owner who finally agrees to train her. Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood come out swinging in these two key roles, but Morgan Freeman steals the show. Playing a sympathetic ex-fighter who’s working as a janitor in Eastwood’s gym, Freeman also narrates the story -- and it’s his charisma and deep, soothing voice that give this movie a touch of class.
Although Million Dollar Baby held my interest throughout, it’s a bit too predictable for me -- I don’t like it when I know what’s going to happen next in almost every scene. And the movie’s controversial ending put me into a deep funk. The film’s stereotypical treatment of minor characters also bothered me. Dysfunctional families seem to be “in” now, but the one depicted here goes too far over the top.
Nevertheless, this latest Eastwood film proves his considerable skill both as a director and an actor. He even cries in this one. Will that be enough to snag the Best Actor Oscar away from Jamie Foxx (for Ray)? Probably not. But Eastwood could end up with another Best Director Oscar, which would make a nice match for his Unforgiven statuette. It’s a shame Eastwood’s excellent background score didn’t garner a nomination. (Yes, he wrote the music, too!) Easy on the ears, it sets the appropriate mood without being obtrusive or overly sentimental.
Speaking of Oscars, Million Dollar Baby racked up 7 nominations (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay). Of these nominations, my hopes are on Freeman. I'm cheering for him to finally receive an Academy Award this year. His humanistic portrayal of “Scrap,” the one-eyed janitor, is certainly deserving of one -- and he should've won for The Shawshank Redemption and Driving Miss Daisy, so the Academy owes him big time.
Nominee Swank, already an Oscar winner for Boys Don’t Cry, is generally convincing as Maggie Fitzgerald, the determined prize fighter. While her boxing scenes may be too short for fight fans, Maggie’s a knock-out punch gal -- so that seems appropriate here. My only complaint about this performance involves Maggie’s later change of character, which Swank doesn’t carry off completely for me. (My sister disagrees with me and will probably punch me out for including that last sentence.)
Although Million Dollar Baby is a must-see for Clint Eastwood fans, I never thought I would write the following about one of his films: Be sure to bring tissues.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “PG-13” for violence, some disturbing images, thematic material and language. )