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Million Dollar Baby | Review

Blood, sweat and Clint’s tears

Eastwood’s boxing drama meets all the requirements to make it 2 for 2.

Hollywood loves their key-lime pie, loves the on-screen look of a stench-filled aging boxing gym, loves uplifting against-all-odds fables, adores the underdog and worships Clint Eastwood. It comes as no surprise that a film like Million Dollar Baby will be dubbed as the little movie that could and somehow TKO the competition come Oscar night. Adapted from the short story “Rope Burns” by F.X. Toole, Dan Harris’s offers three solid characters and a script full of clichés. Eastwood paces this pile-up of eye-rolling dramatic moments to perfection. Narrated with the thoughtful and appeasing voice of Morgan Freeman (Levity), this is the story of two olds dogs who get back into the ring – not the boxing one, but the one called life. There one last chance gets away and perhaps they will never have that chance again until one cocky person walks into their life. Hilary Swank (Insomnia) completes the trio and delivers a convincing performance but its Eastwood’s likeable character that is the core of the film. Perhaps it’s the fact that Sergio Leone’s man without a name actually breaks-down that is comforting – with his grumpy “I don’t like girls” stance that will bring about a grin in any filmgoers but its what this character is hiding and what he slowly unveils that is the most engaging about this figure. But its Eastwood’s direction that truly hits a mark with the viewer – especially in how very little in dialogue is used to convey the emotional-attachment between Boss and the protégé. The film’s brighter moments are when it focuses on the kind of smaller scenes where dialogue exchanges mean very little for the plot but enrich the characters of Frankie and Scrap. Unfortunately everything involving Maggie’s character doesn’t work as well. From the shameful plot points that deal with her hillbilly trailer park trash life to the incredibly badly filmed boxing bouts which make the scenes of shadow boxing like better than they actually are. While Eastwood gives us three authentic characters – everyone outside the trio come across as grossly exaggerated characterizations – from the people in the boxing gym to her immediate family – the rest are all rather too cartoonish-like. Like (Mystic River), audiences might be shaking their heads wondering what the hype is all about – this is an middle of the road film that happens to have a good chemistry in spurts and not throughout. Million Dollar Baby is a no frills drama that aims for the heart, the clutter of handkerchief cues with the poetry reading, her ring name silliness, the returned envelopes and the formulaic final plot twist are items from a nostalgic cinema for an America that doesn’t want to be challenged but instead stay safe. Those who mention Raging Bull and this film in the same breath should be frowned upon.

Rating 2 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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