Watched Million Dollar Baby last night and - surprise surprise - liked it. Really liked it. Surprise surprise because I was almost certain it would turn out to be one of those self-consciously gloomy films Eastwood-as-director sometimes turns out (the most obvious example being last year’s highly overrated Mystic River, which all but drowned the viewer in an imitation River Styx).
I knew beforehand about the abrupt shift in tone that occurs around two-thirds of the way through Million Dollar Baby, and was dreading how ol’ Clint would handle it. But no major complaints. He let the situation speak for itself, didn’t make it too heavy-handed and refreshingly the film managed to retain its snappiness even in the dark final moments. The worst thing about it - and in my opinion the only serious flaw - was the over-the-top portrayal of Maggie’s self-serving family. But there was nothing else that jarred badly.
Incidentally, I was watching it sitting next to Shougat, whose idea of high praise for any film is "That wasn’t as hideously terrible as one might have feared". That he restricted himself to only two or three snide comments through the 2 hour-10 minute running time said a lot.
A couple of obligatory observations:
Hilary Swank: excellent. After years, a best actress Oscar given for pure performance, not for wearing a fake nose or for symbolising Emancipated Black Womanhood. (Ok, so that’s unfair to Charlize Theron, who was superb in Monster last year, but I couldn’t resist the pokes at Nicole Kidman and Halle Berry.) Shougat, even as he mused whether she deserved it over Imelda Staunton, pointed out that some of the most impressive things about Swank’s performance were things that wouldn’t be immediately obvious to casual viewers - like her painstaking preparation for a boxer’s role and her completely professional moves in the ring.
But I was - dare one say this? - equally impressed by Eastwood the actor. Incredibly understated performance by a man about who Pauline Kael once wrote "He isn’t really doing anything at all, so one can’t exactly call it bad acting." Given how he began his career and the roles that brought him stardom, it’s creditable that he’s so willing to show a vulnerable side.
There’s been a lot written about this film on the Roger Ebert website, mainly because Ebert and his editor took up cudgels against critic-evangelist Michael Medved, who had denounced the film for being pro-euthanasia (Medved also revealed the film’s plot secrets in what Ebert believed was a deliberate attempt to sabotage its box-office performance). But what I recommend you read (preferably after seeing the movie) is this article by Jim Emerson, the editor of RogerEbert.com. I don’t quite agree with his view (I think he’s too hard on the film) but it’s an intelligent and very comprehensive write-up.