What the hell am I missing here!
Having watched Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby”, and then reading some of the countless glowing reviews, Top Ten of All Time lists and tributes with titles like “Movies that inspired me out of my coma” , I’m convinced that I mustn’t have seen the same film. This was nauseating. Everything about this film was a disappointment and I genuinely sat with my mouth agape trying to understand how anybody could not actively dislike it, let alone consider it worthy as a “Best Picture” Oscar winner.
The story itself isn’t the issue, there are plenty of wonderful films that have followed the same sort of formula; a slow talking underdog named Maggie (but don’t be fooled, she ain’t no fool) who has had to struggle through everything in life (Hillary Swank) starts training at a run-down gym run by miserable, bitter, boxing trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood playing Clint Eastwood), and pleads for him to train her, despite the fact that she’s never had proper training before and she’s too old and that she’s got the whole world stacked up against her but dammit she’s got heart. Dunn begrudgingly takes her on, and helps her rise through the ranks of professional boxing while he learns to love again. Oh and Morgan Freeman plays Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris, a wise old guy who lives at the gym and is in the movie for no reason at all other than to narrate everything that’s happening because obviously the audience is too stupid to figure things out for themselves.
I don’t even know where to start, but I suppose the thing that annoyed me the most was how wooden and clunky the direction of this film was. Eastwood won the 2005 Best Director Oscar for his efforts, and I just can’t see how. Nothing seemed to flow organically; every movement and gesture seemed obvious and devoid of any subtlety, as I was watching I could almost hear the stage directions being read; “Eddie sits on a stool and puts his face in his hands looking sad so that Dunn can walk over and ask him what’s wrong”, “Maggie hits boxing bag like somebody who has never punched anything in her life so that Dunn can approach her and tell her that she’s doing it wrong. Dunn sighs and looks mean”. This script was unbelievably bad, and was almost exclusively cheap one liners or sappy stories designed to inspire and demonstrate how philosophically deep these characters are (just in case you had any doubt, Clint Eastwood walks around with a book reciting Greek because he’s just that unique and quirky).
Not once did I feel like a fly on the wall listening to a real conversation that genuinely reflected how these individuals would have talked, instead these shells of characters are so pumped full of sanctimonious drivel that it was impossible to develop any real emotional connection with them. Every character has been reduced to their most basest of character traits; Dunn is gruff and mean, Maggie is plucky and Southern, Eddie is wise and kind eyed and just in case the audience is left in any doubt, Morgan Freeman will just narrate it for you. There are a number of tragic events throughout the film deliberately designed to squeeze out some ill-earned tears, but I just didn’t care. Not once did I see these characters as three dimensional people with complexity and the capacity to suffer, and as such, none of the misfortune that they come across struck me as remotely sad at all.
I guess it’s kind of impressive the lengths that Hillary Swank went to for her role, she probably went through hell to get to the shape necessary to play a professional boxer. Her character is so underdeveloped though, that for me the physicality didn’t have the desired effect; that sort of method acting can only serve to enhance a performance if the performance itself is solid. I wasn’t impressed once by Swank’s acting in this, she adopts a broad Southern accent and a wide eyed innocence but that’s about it. I suppose its not entirely her fault, there was no opportunity for her to explore the character of Maggie properly with such a lackluster script but again I definitely don’t think she deserved the Best Actress Oscar. Eastwood does exactly what you would expect Eastwood to do, which is to scowl and grumble, and Morgan Freeman lands probably the easiest Supporting Actor Oscar in the history of the Awards. The narration was bad to the point of insulting, heavy somehow with both ham-fisted metaphors and pointlessly obvious observation. I hate it when a film assumes the audience is stupid and has to ladle us everything; rather than Dunn and Maggie form their own chemistry and relationship, the filmmakers shove in there that Dunn has a daughter he hasn’t spoken to in years and Maggie’s Dad died when she was a kid.
I was so ready to love this. Instead, “Million Dollar Baby” is boring, self-righteous, uninspired, poorly acted, clichéd, insultingly simplistic and completely devoid of any meaningful character development or dialogue that isn’t dripping with its own self importance. I hated every minute of this, and by the time the credits ran I felt cheated out of the masterpiece that I had been promised.
By Jock Lehman