“It doesn’t saturate the viewer with eight dozen behind the scenes featurettes that open the mind of the film so wide that whatever was so special now becomes diluted with tech-ese” – Colin Moore
Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Hilary Swank
A good friend of mine made the comment that Million Dollar Baby was pretty much “Rocky with a chick.” Soapy sequels aside, sure, Rocky bears a number of similarities to Eastwood’s latest. Besides being Oscar winners for Best Picture, both films make use of the same grocery list of sporting film conventions: the crotchedy older manager who finds opportunity at the end of his career, the pupil with more heart than technique, the training sequences, the comebacks, the need to protect the student from all things seedy, etc.
Million Dollar Baby. Eastwood’s only getting better the more shark like his eyes set themselves into a still snarly ashen face. As an actor, it’s terrific to see him in action, unrelenting, like watching a favorite grandfather who refuses to let some neighborhood punk mow his lawn. In Baby, Clint plays Frankie Dunn, the owner/manager of a scrapy L.A. gym, complete with hungry hopefuls, shriveled hope, and Eddie, a one-eyed caretaker/keeper of souls (played by the go-to man for guiding wisdom in cinema, Mr. Morgan Freeman). Hillary Swank is the title’s Baby, Maggie Fitzgerald, a fiercely determined child of the trailer park who wants to box. Needs to. She has fire but is inexperienced, and a half-decade past her prime. But where there’s Frankie, there’s hope. She politely dogs Clint for his tutilege, fully confident in his ability to make her lethal. But there’s a problem. Frankie lives in a world of contradiction. He’s a religious church goer but gladly mocks the doctrine and lies to the priest about his contact with a daughter lost to him. He spends his life around the ropes, training fighters with an obvious objective – to take them all the way, but he’s become too protective over the years to finish the job. It seems the eye of the tiger can come and go for management just as easily as for a fighter. Maggie is his chance for redemption, both as a father and as a manager. Likewise, Frankie and his knowledge are like spinal polyfill to Maggie’s crackled sense of worth. They need each other. Let the healing begin. And the training. This ain’t no Rocky though. Like Baby, Rocky has a certain dark desperation about it. “What must a person do to survive? To succeed? To be whole?” They both have the same basic response. “You fight.” But where Rocky shows personal and professional payoffs to hard work and self-respect, Baby can’t. Not easily anyway. It still sees the world’s faults as unbeatable in the end. Family problems can be dealt with, but not solved. The enemy can sometimes have their way. The only success there is is finding a way to live with yourself, who you are, and what you’ve done. Not so much of a stretch from your Dirty Harrys, your Tightropes, and A Perfect Worlds.
“Everything in boxing is backwards. It’s an unnatural act.” It’s a line from Baby as telling about the film as the filmmaker himself, and his approach to filmmaking. If it’s not obvious enough from watching one of his films, a round table interview on the extra features DVD gives us hints of Eastwood’s directorial technique, from the man himself and his Baby co-stars. It alone is watchable enough to warrant a 2nd DVD. But this package is bare bones simple. Just enough commentary to draw your interest back to the him, not to the extras themselves. It doesn’t saturate the viewer with eight dozen behind the scenes featurettes that open the mind of the film so wide that whatever was so special now becomes diluted with tech-ese. I like hot dogs too but I don’t want a tour of the factory.
The Eastwoods of the 70s and 80s epitomized the strong silent vigilante. But while champions of street justice like Charles Bronson couldn’t convey a believable emotion unless he was gunning it down behind a dark blue dumpster at 2am, Clint always seemed surprisingly effective speaking in gravelly whispers. He had the face with the built-in character. One look and you knew who he was: a man who chose to keep his emotions in check rather than lose a needed edge. A hardened man. A man with secrets he’ll keep to himself thank you very much (you a Scorpio Clint?). A man who swore by a moral code he’d practically turn criminal to defend. And more and more recently, a man who is vulnerable. Maybe it’s an age thing. Since Unforgiven on through the Bridges adaptation and Mystic River, Clint has perfected his technique of telling more personal stories, and simply, like his style of performance. It’s something I’ve always admired about his films. The appearance of less: lighting, music, even the extras. But what you take from the experience is greater because of it. And real. Characters seem to react, not act. Camera movement is limited and ADHD free, letting the audience see what needs to be seen. Dialogue is a back-up plan for faces that can’t tell their story without a voice box. Nothing is fed to us, it all just seems to happen. Freeman and Swank won acting Oscars for their work. Eastwood was nominated as well, though settled for a couple Best Director/Best Picture trophies. Must be something to it.
Reviewer : Colin Moore