Film: Million Dollar Baby
Rating: But...This Movie Sucks!
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
Reason for Ignorance: Hated Mystic River
Ignorance Rating: Pending
You know in Barton Fink, when he's asked to write a terrible, cliched, melodramatic B-movie wrestling picture starring Wallace Beery, and he can't? Well, Paul Haggis, adapting some short stories by F.X. Toole, has managed to write it. It's called Million Dollar Baby.
Million Dollar Baby has that mixture of predictability and preposterousness that only Hollywood movies can muster. Sure, it's utterly preposterous that female boxer Maggie (Swank) would show up in Frankie's (Eastwood) gym and ask him to train her and - even though he doesn't train girls and she's too old - he trains her, she warms his heart and melts his curmudgeonly exterior, and becomes the best boxer in her weight class. Preposterous. And yet, also predictable.
In Barton Fink, the studio exec tries to get Barton started by reminding him that every protagonist of a wrestling picture must protect either a dame or a retarded kid. Barton ponders his options and finally offers: "How about...both?" The executive ain't happy - even a cliche monger like him wouldn't have the audacity to both in one film. Which is why, in Million Dollar baby, Frankie and his sidekick Eddie (Morgan Freeman) don't just train Maggie, they also let "Danger" Barch, a semi-retarded youth who dreams of being a boxer, hang out and train in their gym. And don't even get me started on the scene where the gym's bully is picking on Danger and Eddie puts on one glove to put the bully in his place. No, I can't believe it: the battle-hardened ex-boxer who spoke longingly of one more fight stood up to the bully and protected the simpleton!? Who could have predicted it?
Outside of the hard left turn that the film takes in its final act, it really is just a heaping bunch of maudlin cliches; from boxing cliches, delivered in voiceover by Freeman, to the absolutely vicious portrait of Maggie's families as worthless white trash, the film hasn't met an easy shot it didn't like. And I'll echo the party-line from all non-Eastwood lovers: post-1992's Unforgiven, every Eastwood-directed picture has been as standard as it could be: competent-looking and professionally made hackwork. (Beware The Changeling!)
Were I watching this film in a vacuum, I probably wouldn't have loathed it so much. But as a Best Picture and Best Director winner, as the leading film of the 21st century's most overrated director, and above all as the movie which featured Hilary Swank's corny slice of Americana winning the Best Actress award over Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine, I loathed Million Dollar Baby. It's a mediocre movie, made in a mediocre manner, but with such pretensions and aspirations to greatness that I can't help but hate it. Had it appeared on Lifetime, I could have forgiven it. As an Academy Award winner, I believe this: someone should have euthanized this picture.