Saturday, October 4, 2008

Film Ignorance #18: Million Dollar Baby

Film: Million Dollar Baby
Rating: But...This Movie Sucks!
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
Year: 2004
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.
Just imagine: In 2004, you could have honored this movie instead. Good job, Academy.


sd said...

-at this point, isn't having not gotten an oscar kind of a badge of honor? i'm not sure i would have wanted the academy to put their seal on eternal sunshine...
-there's a pretty great million dollar baby reference in an episode of the office. you should watch the office.

Graham said...

Your office advice, as always, is dooley noted.

Eh, I don't consider not having won an Oscar a good sign. The Oscars are way better than they could be. I don't consider not having won an Oscar a bad thing either, but right now, nearly every great film made by the studios is designed to win Oscars. So when things like Eternal Sunshine win Oscars, studios try to make more movies like that, which I would prefer to more movies like Million Dollar Baby.

sd said...

-ok, the influence of oscar movies is a very good point. although i don't know how many eternal-sunshine-good movies they could really make if they tried.
-that's an awesome pun that i've never heard before! hooray!

Graham said...

I can't believe you've never heard that pun before! I'm so proud.

My first thought, when I made the Oscar argument, was that they couldn't make more Eternal Sunshiney movies if they tried. But then I realized I was defining what kind of movie that would be too narrowly: I'm pretty sure any Wes Anderson-y movie would count. And since no movie in that hipstery group has ever won any major awards (Alan Arkin's best supp. actor for Little Miss Sunshine is the closest it gets) I would prefer them to start honoring them, so we can get more of them. I'm so tired of Eastwood's crap getting so acclaimed every year...and I saw a clip of Changeling on The Daily Show that looked soooo, sooo bad.

Anonymous said...

>.Just imagine: In 2004, you could have honored this movie instead.

What, you mean that bit of indie artwank for self-absorbed 17 year olds? Nah, I don't think so!

>>Good job, Academy.

Indeed. The best film of that year actually won the big price - a rarity at the Oscars.

Graham said...

You're right, Anonymous: you win the big price for best comment!

MovieMan0283 said...

I agree that Eastwood is overrated, though I would place the loathsome Peter Jackson (no, no, I have nothing against him PERSONALLY) as most overrated. I didn't mind Million Dollar Baby, though I sympathize with your reasons for hating it. I was far more offended by Mystic River - do you have a post on that somewhere? I'd like to compare notes.

Graham said...

It's gonna take me a while to get to all of these. I don't have a post anywhere on Mystic River, but yeah, I hated it way more. But I kinda think it was better, after a fashion.

I've always believed that the worst movies are not actually movies that are just bad (like, say, Plan 9 From Outer Space) but instead movies that have some level and skill of artistry to them, but overreach to the point that they take something that could have been beautiful and make it a blasphemous monstrosity. And I would put Mystic River near the top of that: all those great actors and Eastwood's technical skill in the service of a pretentious, preposterous, and portentous story. Total, absolute crap.

MovieMan0283 said...

And an ending that betrayed the characters to make some pompous, ultimately meaningless, statement.

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Hello million dollar baby is a great movie the girl fighting is very inspirational i really like it and i think is and oscar winner.

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