Million Dollar Baby

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“The harder they come, the harder they fall…”

The problem with boxing films is that it’s very hard to avoid the obvious cliches. Kid from the streets, initially seen as hopeless, eventually convinces a trainer to take them on, and struggles towards the goal of a shot at the big time. Million is no different, for the first two-thirds at least. Then, there is a sudden, unexpected swerve – or would have been unexpected, if our son hadn’t ruthlessly spoilered it, by wandering in and telling us of a scene in Scary Movie 4 which spoofed it. Thank you, Robert. :-) This shifts the movie in a radically different direction, though also divorcing it entirely from the action heroine genre and robbing it of at least half a grade, since reviews here center around such aspects.

What helps enormously are the three characters at the core of the film: trainer and gym owner Frankie (Eastwood), ex-fighter and general gym handyman Eddie (Freeman), and the thirty-something hillbilly waitress Maggie (Swank), who comes to the gym to learn the pugilistic arts. All three have their burdens, Frankie in particular, who blames himself for everything bad that happens to anyone he knows. Yet somehow, they fit together like crazy paving and become more whole as a result; it’s fascinating to watch, and much credit is due to all three actors. The fight scenes are well staged too. Swank looks the part – she was The Next Karate Kid, after all – as she makes her way through the ranks, ending up facing champion Billie the Blue Bear (Rijker – on the left in the pic, and in reality, 37-0 as a kickboxer, 17-0 as a boxer), and there’s little glamourous here.

You get some feeling for the appeal of the sport, and the commitment it demands, though the freak nature of the incident which drives the final third seems lazy writing. Despite a weak script, the performances, particularly Eastwood, lift this above and beyond. Recommended if you want a more thoughtful approach, and are prepared for action more to be a catalyst for drama, rather than a purpose in itself.

Dir: Clint Eastwood
Star: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Lucia Rijker

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