Hmmm. A million dollars sure doesn’t go as far as used to. (And you’d think with that kinda cash Clint could have invested in a few more lights around the set.) At any rate, I’m willing to bet I might have thought more of Million Dollar Baby if I had seen it before the hype machine kicked in (and before I knew the twist, since I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.) But, well, MDB was a harmless helping of manipulative schlock, I guess. But even if I hadn’t seen Aliens of the Deep just beforehand, this film would have come off as a woefully two-dimensional enterprise.
At this late date, you probably know the story. Grizzled archetypal trainer Clint Eastwood and his grizzled archetypal sidekick Morgan Freeman run a dark and dilapidated boxing facility, without benefit of loyal title contenders or fluorescent lighting. Into this duo’s endless Who’s More Grizzled repartee steps Hillary Swank, a plucky, gosh-darned-don’t-that-girl-have-heart boxer-wannabe from the wrong side of the tracks, who’s burdened with the scariest, goofiest redneck family this side of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. (And don’t even get me started on Cletus, or Forrest, or Danger, or whatever that gimpy kid’s name was.) Soon enough, plucky Swank has even managed to thaw the heart of frosty ole Clint, and together they make that long-awaited title run, until…ack!
Like I said, MDB was ok enough as a hammy diversion, but I’d say its emotional resonance wasn’t too far removed from the Touched By an Angel melodrama of last week’s The Jacket. It’s a by-the-numbers boxing movie that turns into a by-the numbers Lifetime movie-of-the-week. Sure, the acting is polished across the board, but I thought the characters were for the most part shallow and cartoonish. (In fact, Morgan Freeman is barely even playing a character — he’s a Shawshank voiceover tinged with a touch of Bagger Vance.) And the plot barely holds together — I’m sorry, but, Evander Holyfield’s ear notwithstanding, you’re just not going to get away with that many sucker punches in a title fight.
I’m probably being a bit too hard on this flick — it made for a reasonably engaging two hours, sure. Perhaps it even works as an homage to the Hollywood of yore — at times this felt like a Karl Malden vehicle from 50 years ago. But, simply put, this was in no way the best film of last year — I’ll take Eternal Sunshine, The Aviator, Sideways, The Incredibles and a host of others over MDB any day of the week and twice on Sunday. This isn’t even the best Clint film in recent years – Mystic River was much more well-realized, and obviously Unforgiven is head-and-shoulders above this drek. How MDB won the Oscar bout is beyond me…Call McCain — the fix was in.