Preview by: Jack Foley
CLINT Eastwood is on something of a role as film-maker at the
His follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Mystic
River has already been named as one of the top five films
of 2004 by the National
Board of Review even before it opened in the States.
And word of mouth is such that it's being touted as another possible
Oscar contender for the veteran.
Eastwood stars and directs the story of a boxing trainer, Frankie
Dunn, who reluctantly agrees to coach a female boxer (Hilary Swank)
in the wake of a painful estrangement from his daughter.
The fighter in question is Maggie Fitzgerald and she quickly
displays the right combination of raw talent, unshakable focus
and a tremendous force of will that makes her a worthwhile prospect
But her desire to have someone truly believe in her is the last
thing Frankie is prepared to give, and their ensuing relationship
is both exasperating and inspiring for each other, before eventually
providing them with a sense of family they both lost years ago.
Needless to say, however, both will face a battle that will demand
more heart and courage than before by the time the movie ends.
The film is based on a pair of short stories from the collection,
Rope Burns: Stories From the Corner by FX Toole, who
is, himself, a former boxer, and the script has been adapted by
It also reunites Eastwood with Unforgiven
co-star, Morgan Freeman, which, just in itself, offers a mouth-watering
In naming Million Dollar Baby as one of the year's best films,
the National Board of Review also awarded Eastwood a special film-making
achievement for producing, directing, acting and composing the
score for the film, which could well be followed up by some sort
The film goes on limited release in the US from December 15,
before enjoying a full release in both America and the UK in January.
Eastwood should rightly feel punch-drunk with the acclaim surrounding
this one, as US critics have mostly been lining up to sing its
Typical of the reaction was the New York Daily News,
which wrote that it is 'a movie that approaches the level of great
boxing films, like Raging Bull, by using sport as a metaphor for
And Reelviews stated that 'Eastwood deserves
another Best Picture nomination. Here's a man who has finally
put Dirty Harry to rest'.
Glowing, too, was USA Today, which wrote that
it's 'as good as Unforgiven.
Or, to put it another way, as good as any movie Eastwood has ever
And CNN, which stated that 'the film works on
every level - acting, direction and production - as it tells its
heartfelt story about human frailty and the power of redemption'.
The Chicago Sun-Times also raved, noting that
it's 'the kind of movie where you sit very quietly in the theater
and are drawn deeply into lives that you care very much about'.
While Entertainment Weekly opined that 'it may
be a classically staged tale of an underdog's triumph, but each
scene is packed with authentic feeling'.
And the Hollywood Reporter wrote that 'under
Eastwood's painstakingly stripped-down direction - his filmmaking
has become the cinematic equivalent of Hemingway's spare though
precise prose - the story emerges as that rarest of birds, an
In fact, the plaudits continue in that vein. The New
York Post wrote: "Eastwood scores a knockout as
an actor and director with Million Dollar Baby, a spare, exquisitely
realized masterpiece about faith, redemption and boxing that beautifully
illustrates his longtime philosophy that 'less is more.'"
And Variety stated: "Slow-burning drama
of a determined female boxer and her hard-shelled trainer, a tale
Eastwood invests with rewarding reserves of intimacy, tragedy,
tenderness and bitter life knowledge."
Rolling Stone, meanwhile, concluded that 'the
knockout punch comes from Eastwood. His stripped-down performance
- as powerful as anything he's ever done - has a rugged, haunting
While the Los Angeles Times noted that it is
'perhaps the director's most touching, most elegiac work yet,
Million Dollar Baby is a film that does both the expected and
the unexpected, that has the nerve and the will to be as pitiless
as it is sentimental'.
The final word, however, goes to the New York Times,
which concludes this overview with these words: "Clint Eastwood's
drama about a grizzled boxing trainer and a spunky young fighter
is the best movie released by a major Hollywood studio this year."