Monday, April 4, 2011

"Million Dollar Baby:" Clint gets depressing for more Oscars

Title: Million Dollar Baby
Released: 2004
Genre: Tear-jerker with boxing
Notable for: Clint's second helping of Oscars
Coolest thing Clint does: Acts grumpy, we guess

People with taste consider "Million Dollar Baby" to be perhaps the best Clint Eastwood movie. But we have a quibble.

"It's good, but it's depressing," Andrew said. "It's the most depressing Clint movie ever."

"Million Dollar Baby" reunites Clint and Morgan Freeman as a couple of old guys running a semi-seedy boxing gym. Clint is a crusty trainer in the mold of Burgess Meredith from "Rocky," but he quickly reveals a heart of gold.

He writes letters to an estranged daughter who returns each letter unopened. He attends mass every day and argues theology with an exasperated priest. He is intensely loyal to his best fighter, who does not return the favor.

Hilary Swank shows up in the gym (on her way to a second Oscar for best actress) and wants Clint to train her. She's a hillbilly waitress with big dreams.

"I don't train girls" Clint snarls. He calls female boxing "the latest freak show."

Obviously, it's just a matter of time.

Once Clint starts the training, Hilary rapidly becomes a great boxer. She is devoted to Clint and becomes his substitute for the lost daughter.

While fighting the world's dirtiest boxer of any gender, Hilary is sucker-punched long after the bell rings to end a round, causing her to fall head-first into a corner stool. She is paralyzed from the neck down.

By all rights, Clint should have jumped into the ring and punched that dirty-fighting chick square in her face. Or maybe shot her dead with a harpoon gun. But he did nothing, Nothing happens to the villain. The most Clint-like action in the entire film was delivered by Morgan Freeman. Enraged by a gloating bully one-third his age, Freeman puts on a box glove and beats the teeth out of the guy.

The rest of the movie shows Clint sitting devotedly by Hilary's side as she develops bedsores and has an infected leg amputated. She begs him to give her a mercy killing.

"I can't!" Clint growls. Of course he can.

Clint waits for the film to foreshadow that he will be lost if he performs the mercy killing, then he pulls the plug and drops out of sight.

"When he walked out, I don't think he had anything left," Freeman says as narrator.

Clint won his second Oscars for both best picture and best director, but this is in some ways the most unClint-like movie we've seen in the nearly completed Clint Eastwood Project.

Clint made other movies with sad endings — "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" is similar, on the surface — but "Million Dollar Baby" is the only one where he is shattered by grief instead of grunting along as the strong, silent type.

It is a very good movie, we admit, but we don't have enough taste to fully enjoy being depressed by our heroes. We don't want heroes to be crushed by cruel and unfair fate, no matter how nobly they face the crushing. We prefer the Clint who rights wrongs, kicks ass and is stronger than the world around him.

Next (and last) up: "Gran Torino."


  1. You need to look beyond the depressing aspects because this is a beautiful father-daughter love story. Eastwood's character is estranged from his daughter, he finds a surrogate daughter in Swank's female boxer, she gets terribly injured and asks him to switch off her life support which is awful enough, yes, but it also demonstrates just how much he loves this girl. He doesn't want to do this but he agrees because it's what she wants. In the process it destroys him and we're left to hope that his real daughter reads the letter Scrap writes and comes to realize just what a loving Dad Frankie really was. It's not really about boxing at all. This is Eastwood's greatest movie bar none. Exquisitely acted, directed - just the whole kaboodle - plus emotionally it cuts so deep, far deeper than anything in Unforgiven.

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