Thursday, July 28, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

[Pic Courtesy IMDb]

Million Dollar Baby revolves around a boxing trainer(Clint Eastwood), his trainee(Hillary Swank) and his friend(Morgan Freeman). Initially reluctant about teaching a girl, Eastwood eventually comes around and agrees to train Swank. She is good at boxing and pretty soon, the trainer and his student are on a journey to the championship fight. But a tragedy forces them to stop. The winner of 4 Oscars, the movie asks some hard questions that have no easy answers and is an emotional rollercoaster.

Initially Million Dollar Baby proceeds like a typical sports movie with standard characters like the hero(ine) determined to succeed and the unwilling trainer who refuses to believe in her. Inspite of the grim surroundings(most of the movie takes place in a rundown gym which has surely seen better days) and the serious characters(the poor heroine, the trainer down on money, etc.), the movie is pretty lighthearted during these portions. The verbal sparring between Eastwood and Swank as he tries to keep her away and she keeps wearing him down, makes us smile at several places.

The sudden turn of events in the last third of the film is not completely unexpected. After all, any sports movie has the protagonist encounter a big crisis before he/she wins at the end and there are enough clues here pointing to what's coming. But the magnitude of the crisis here is a suprise. So the proceedings thereafter are almost shocking and pack quite an emotional punch.

For a movie, there is a rather thin line between being emotional and seeming manipulative. The key to the former is developing characters you like and root for. If we get characters we dislike or develop no emotional attachment with, any tragedy they go through will seem irritating and manipulative. Million Dollar Baby manages to stay on the right side of the line precisely for this reason. We admire Swank's gutsiness, her never-say-die attitude, her loyalty to Eastwood and her dedication to the sport. And we feel for Eastwood and understand that he has a good heart hidden within his gruff exterior. This makes their travails hit home.

The movie's emotional core comes from the completely realistic way it is handled. There is no crying or loud music to mark the difficult proceedings and it is never crassly manipulative. Instead, the characters' feelings and emotions are expressed through their expressions, actions and words. Even the all-important final act is captured in an almost matter-of-fact way. The characters we like in the first half really earn our respect and admiration as the movie proceeds. Their positive outlook on life has more effect than any tears or long dialogs could have ever had. We come to sympathise with both Swank and Eastwood, though for completely different reasons, and more importantly, we understand them and what is behind their actions.

That is not to say that Eastwood is completely beyond a little emotional manipulation. Swank's family seems a little over-the-top and when they visit Swank, I got the feeling that Eastwood was going for the tear ducts a little too strongly. And the track with the boxer in the gym seems added just to give Freeman a memorable, feel-good scene.

Swank is terrific and her Best Actress Oscar was truly well-deserved. There wasn't a single moment, both during her practice and her bouts in the ring, where I didn't believe I was seeing a real boxer in action. The role actually becomes more physically demanding towards the end and she carries it off with elan. Eastwood suits the role of the gruff trainer who eventually develops genuine affection for his ward. Admirably, he takes a secondary role to Swank's fighter. Morgan Freeman is, I think, incapable of a bad performance and turns in another understated performance as the worldly wise friend.


At 11:07 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

i guess that is enough motivation for us to go rent it this weekend..


At 11:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i watched this movie much before all the oscar hype sure did leave me shaken...i had absolutely no idea about the "twist" and it took me awhile to really 'recover.' my friend and i talked about this movie for hours together after the screening...yes, swank turned in a fabulous of the best movies of ' of my fav lil'l moments is when freeman gives swank a small 'treat' on her b'day...their conversation was beautifully scripted...

At 4:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never miss a Clint Eastwood movie on the big screen.

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