The Michigan Daily discovered in April 2005 that several articles written by arts editor Marshall W. Lee did not meet the newspaper’s standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. Although the article below has not been found to contain plagiarism, the Daily no longer stands by its content. For details, see the Daily’s editorial.
Say what you will about the squint, the limp and the rumbling drawl that swallows soft consonants like a vociferous black hole, but as Clint Eastwood reluctantly ambles along toward retirement, the quintessential American badass may finally be finding his niche behind the camera. At an age when most folks are resting on their antiquated laurels and bitching about the price of Cialis outside the Sarasota Walgreens, Clint Eastwood — who will turn 76 this year — is cementing his much deserved status as a unique cinematic force. He is a gruff and grizzled triple threat who has, against all odds, become film’s foremost balladeer of quiet catastrophe.
After dazzling critics and audiences with last year’s “Mystic River” — a well acted, though somewhat overwrought, suburban tragedy — Eastwood returns in fine form as director, composer and star of the far superior “Million Dollar Baby.” Based on the short-story cycle “Rope Burns” by F.X. Toole, “Million Dollar Baby” centers on aging boxing coach and gym owner Frankie Dunn (Eastwood), a prickly and tortured trainer whose life is plagued by the echoes of past personal and professional failures. After being dumped by his star fighter — Frankie refuses to let the kid fight for a title, fearing both for the young boxer’s ego and safety — Dunn begrudgingly agrees to take on troubled gym-rat Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), an impoverished 30-something wannabe fighter with killer determination and endless enthusiasm.
But for the reticent and enigmatic Frankie, who attends Mass each morning and dutifully writes his estranged and unresponsive daughter in hopes of purging some old demon from his mind, his timid relationship with Maggie is more like a stumbling shot at redemption than just another lesson in breathing and footwork. As the eager upstart Maggie, Hilary Swank steals every scene, showing a physical prowess and dramatic range that is only more striking when considering the iconic supporting company. Swank, whose flawlessly muscled physique is itself something to behold, effortlessly jumps from comedy to melodrama and back again, lending to her cartoonishly trailer-trash character a meticulously gritty and thoroughly agreeable edge. The 30-year-old actress has garnered another Academy Award nomination for her work here — she won the Oscar in 1999 for her gender-bending performance in “Boys Don’t Cry” — and certainly there wasn’t a more demanding or difficult role this year.
Unfortunately, like with the rushed and dissonant resolution of “Mystic River,” Eastwood once again stumbles in his delivery of “Baby’s” final pathos, heavy-handedly dealing out an emotional sucker-punch that feels contrived and unsettling. The story is openly unsentimental, dragging its characters through physical and emotional hell with a kind of detached reverence for pain and turmoil.
Eastwood has apparently attempted to balance the scales by casting the most unabashedly sentimental and schmaltzy actor alive, Morgan Freeman, as Frankie’s diffident conscience and the film’s gentle narrator.
As ex-fighter Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris, Freeman duplicates the ethereal tenderness and everyman turmoil he has claimed as his own with past roles in mushy, big-hearted fare like “The Shawshank Redemption.” Eastwood manipulates and abuses both Freeman — as an actor whose very presence carries a certain emotional weight — and his character Scrap, who is practically abandoned by the film’s final emotional sweep.
That aside, “Million Dollar Baby” is still one of the best films of the year and certainly deserving of all the Oscar nominations it has received. It will have you cheering, but like a brutal, dirty 15-rounder, will leave you emotionally exhausted and physically spent by the end.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars