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Million Dollar Baby - Preview & US reaction

Preview by: Jack Foley

CLINT Eastwood is on something of a role as film-maker at the moment.

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 for Frankie.

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 Paul Haggis.

It also reunites Eastwood with Unforgiven co-star, Morgan Freeman, which, just in itself, offers a mouth-watering prospect.

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 of Oscar.

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.

US reaction

Eastwood should rightly feel punch-drunk with the acclaim surrounding this one, as US critics have mostly been lining up to sing its praises.

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 human nature'.

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 directed'.

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 uplifting tragedy'.

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 beauty'.

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."

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