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Million Dollar Baby

#71 - Million Dollar Baby
Clint Eastwood, 2004

A cynical boxing trainer (Eastwood) ends up taking on a female pupil (Hilary Swank) much to his own consternation.

I saw this one survey that suggested that audiences were more likely to enjoy a piece of narrative fiction if they had it spoiled for them. Keeping that in mind along with the fact that I knew about this particular film's shocking swerve at the end of its second act, I wonder if that assertion holds all that much weight. I guess without its third act Million Dollar Baby would come across as a film that takes a few too many cues from a certain other Best Picture winner about a coarse but good-hearted boxer rising above their desperate circumstances with the help of an old, strict mentor. It is helped by the inclusion of Morgan Freeman as one of the gym's staff and one of Eastwood's former pupils, whose sage-like narration ultimately doesn't add all that much with its emphasis on maxims about the nature of fighting, but it's better than nothing, I suppose. His back-story is also fairly interesting, even if it does involve him relating it to Swank's character. I guess Eastwood knows just how much people like to hear Freeman talk.

Swank's character is one I go back and forth on. She's clearly gone to some effort to learn how to box convincingly, which only draws some attention to her outside-the-ring acting - it's decent enough in the film's third act, but for the first three-quarters of the film it's a fairly standard idealistic trailer-trash performance. Eastwood, well, he's Eastwood - a grouchy bastard with a heart of gold (and, of course, some personal issues that play into the film's plot and his motivations). The whole first act involving Swank trying to convince Eastwood to train her takes a bit too long - we know you've got to have at least some resistance on his part and it allows us to build the characters, but the characters don't have that much depth to need this long a film. The boxing sequences are well-shot and, despite the sudden turn the film takes during the last half-hour, it doesn't succumb to Oscar-bait nonsense as much as you'd think. It's solid enough and I may revisit it, but as of right now I think it's merely alright.