Monday, 26 August 2013

Million Dollar Baby (2004) - ★★★½

Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Paul Haggis (Screenplay), F.X. Toole (Stories)
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Margo Martindale, Jay Baruchel, Lucia Rikjer, Mike Colter

Million Dollar Baby is great in someways, and average in others. It's very thrilling, meticulously acted by most, and very well put together. BUT I just don't see why people think it's one of the best movies of the decade. I just finished reading Roger Ebert's thoughts on the film, and he hailed it as a masterpiece! Well I guess this is yet another one of those films that I "Just don't get." I can definitely see how someone can have their heartstrings pulled by this movie. I'm not saying that people are wrong for lauding Million Dollar Baby as a great film, but I am saying that it's far from a faultless masterpiece.

Roger Ebert put the plot this way. "It tells the story of an ageing fight trainer and a hillbilly girl who thinks she can be a boxer. It is narrated by a former boxer who is the trainer's best friend. But it's not a boxing movie, it's a movie about a boxer." That pretty much sums up the film, but it goes much deeper and has many surprises in store.

Some of the acting is just BAD. Particularly Jay Baruchel as 'Danger,' the loveable idiot who is 'all heart.' The way he acted and spoke just came across completely unbelievable. It reminded me of a line from the movie Tropic Thunder, "You just went full retard. Never go full retard." That is so relevant to Baruchel's overcooked performance. There were a few moments throughout the film where the dialogue just seemed contrived and cliche, particularly from Margo Martindale (an actress I adore by the way). The fact that this occurs numerous times automatically excludes it from being a deserving film to win Best Picture. There were far greater movies made in 2004, such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Hotel Rwanda, and Downfall to name a few.

Hilary Swank gave a stellar performance. She went above and beyond to prepare for this role, and she knocked it out of the park as a believable boxer. An underdog, but believable. However, in my opinion, she didn't deserve to win the Oscar for this role. She was worthy enough to be nominated, because no matter what, her performance was brilliant. BUT, there were two performances that were far greater in 2004. One being Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, who gave one of the most memorable performances I've ever seen. The other, and by far the greatest, was Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake. I've never seen a more powerful display of emotion from an actress in my life, and she wholeheartedly deserved to win the Oscar that year. My comments aren't meant to take anything away from Swank's great performance, it just wasn't good enough to be called "The Best." 

Morgan Freeman gives a fantastic performance. To me, he is the heart and soul of Million Dollar Baby. He's the core that brings strength, joy, and a sense of reality to the film. He voice-overs the same way as he did in The Shawshank Redemption... except he talks about the harsh realities of boxing rather than the poetic escape of a man in prison. It's a memorable performance by Freeman, but not one of his greatest. I honestly see his Academy Award for this role as more of an honorary Oscar, rather than a truly deserved win. I do believe the honour should have gone to Thomas Haden Church for Sideways that year.

To me, the best performance came from Clint Eastwood. He played the 'old fart' perfectly (as he always does). As the story progressed, Eastwood's performance grew more and more emotional. It was he who made the ending so powerful. Swank had made me grow relatively attached to her character, but Eastwood made me grow attached to their relationship. The ending was... powerful. To me, it was the best 5 minutes of the movie. This would have to be the second best performance I've ever seen from Eastwood, his best being in The Bridges of Madison County (1995).

The real masterwork of this film is the boxing scenes. They are thrilling, suspenseful, and heart stoppingly good! Eastwood isn't great at character and story development (from what I've seen), but he's fantastic at creating a visually brilliant scene. When Maggie hit her head on the stool, I had to gasp for air because I realised I wasn't breathing. When a film can do that to you, then that makes it pretty damn cool.

In the end, I look back on Million Dollar Baby with fondness. It's a really good movie. Not one of Eastwood's best, but good none the less. It has a great story, it's acted out masterfully, and it was really well made. With that being said, I don't think it was fantastic. It's probably the worst Best Picture winner I've seen so far. I haven't seen a lot of notorious 'bad' winners, but Million Dollar Baby tops my list. 2004 was one of the weaker years for cinema in my opinion, and Million Dollar Baby happened to be nominated aside a fairly weak field of movies. It's close to great, but just misses the mark for me. I see it as weak tea compared to the beautiful brew of previous winners. 

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