Thursday, July 9, 2009

Million Dollar Baby: Reminiscent of Another Era

Clint Eastwood's `Million Dollar Baby' is about a gruff, macho boxing trainer who trains an enthusiastic young woman. Its description belies the fact that it is an unusually subtle and moving film.

Less ambitious than Eastwood's previous movie `Mystic River', `Million Dollar Baby' centers on Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), an irritable boxing trainer who runs a gym with Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman), a former boxer known as "Scrap-Iron", who also works as a janitor. Their life is somewhat stagnant until Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) interrupts their world. She is a southern girl who visits the gym every moment she is not waitressing. Maggie wants nothing but to be trained by Frankie. As convention has it, he at first refuses, due to her sex and age, but eventually gives in.

Yet the film is far from conventional. It does not have a catchy moral message or one-liners. Morgan Freeman's beautiful narration is both poetic and natural, as is all the dialogue. The characters, who could easily have been uninteresting stereotypes, are well drawn and portrayed with restraint. Eastwood's acting pales slightly in comparison to Freeman and Swank, but he fits his role perfectly. Frankie is hardened and quietly tormented, but he searches for assurance and tenderness.

Freeman is also superbly cast as Eddie, whose eye was knocked sightless in his final fight. He is witty and genuine; he cannot stand watching people fall short of their potential. Eddie is more than a saintly sidekick; he has an edge that allows him to view the world realistically.

Maggie is perhaps one of the kindest, most sincere characters in cinema. Swank is unquestioningly believable as an earnest girl driven by a desire to box. She is honest and strong-minded and does not box for the violence (unlike some of her opponents, including a particularly scary boxer played by Lucia Rijker). However, like the other characters in this film, Maggie is alone.

Maggie and Frankie find glory in her boxing career. It is not because she is uncommonly talented; it is because she strives for success and because the two of them find satisfaction meeting the other's expectations. More importantly, Maggie and Frankie find each other, and their relationship is far less cliché than it sounds.

A few moments are predictable and exaggerated, including Maggie's redneck family. But overall, `Million Dollar Baby' is poignantly humanistic and timeless.

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