Monday, February 07, 2005

'Million Dollar Baby' a champ

Rarely these days is a movie released that makes you think.

Most of the offerings out of Hollywood are little more than two hour special effects extravaganzas with a little music and dialogue thrown in. The bigger the bang, the bigger the buck at the box office.

Which is what makes "Million Dollar Baby," Clint Eastwood's brilliant new film, a masterpiece. There is not an explosion in the entire movie. No char chases. No gunfights.

But there is plenty of character development, shockingly enough. Plenty of good old fashioned dialogue. And (gasp!) well acted scenes and a point behind the plot.

Eastwood plays Frankie Dunn, an aging boxing cut man, full of pain and self doubt. He goes to mass every day, often to chastise his youthful, well-meaning priest. He reads poetry and studies foreign languages. And he runs a gym and trains prizefighters.

How could you not like a character like that?

Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) is from the rough side of the tracks. She grew up dirt poor, in the trailer park. But she is full of passion and has a strong work ethic. She wants to box and she wants Dunn to teach her.

He turns her down flat, saying he doesn't train girls. She pays for six months time at his gym and he reluctantly allows her to stay, telling Eddie "Scrap Iron" Dupris (Morgan Freeman), "don't encourage her."

The former boxer does anyway and Maggie slowly begins to develop. After Dunn's star prizefighter leaves him for another manager, Dunn takes Maggie under his wing.

What follows is a quietly powerful film about dreams, regrets and difficult choices. It is Eastwood's best film since "Unforgiven" and perhaps his best film, period.

The plot, based on boxing stories by F.X. Toole, is allowed to unfold on its own, taking time for characters to develop and a story to be told. Such technique is so rare in Hollywood these days, one should take time to savor every minute of it.

In the end, "Million Dollar Baby" offers a few lessons on life and on dreaming dreams. It may be the best film of the year. If it doesn't dominate the Academy Awards, that organization will have become a bigger joke than the Downtown Athletic Club.

This movie is a champ.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You were supposed to take me to this movie! Bastard.

7:26 PM  

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