On a Friday evening I try and make it a habit to watch a decent movie. Last night, I looked at what was on offer on the TV channels and nothing seemed to have generated much enthusiasm with the movie critics until I came across the unpromising title ‘Million Dollar Baby‘. I had not realised that this 2004 movie had been awarded 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director (Clint Eastwood) until I looked at the reviews. Roger Ebert described the movie as Eastwood’s ‘masterpiece’ even surpassing Unforgiven (1992) and Mystic River (2003). High praise indeed.
Million Dollar Baby is a story about a 31-year old woman (an Academy Award winning performance by Hilary Swank) from a very poor – ‘white trailer trash’ background who is determined to become a boxer. Eastwood plays a trainer who agrees, very reluctantly, to take her on despite his evident disdain for ‘girly’ boxers . Eastwood’s character is clearly carrying a lot of emotional baggage relating to his own daughter but we are not told what the problem is. We just see that his many letters to his daughter simply get delivered back to him with a note saying ‘return to sender’.
The movie progresses well and just when you think you know what is going to happen next, Eastwood floors the viewer with a killer punch at the beginning of the final third of the movie. And like all the best knockout blows – you certainly don’t see it coming. Eastwood was 72 when he made Million Dollar Baby and it was his 25th movie as a director. It is understandable why – without giving too much of the storyline away – he chose to now shine a spotlight on an issue that is becoming a major talking point in societies across the world but particularly in the West.
We learn that Eastwood’s character has attended mass every day for 23 years and when he questions his priest about the ‘issue’, the priest gives the standard stock response that all the main spokespersons from the Abrahamic religions tend to give to this particular question. Eastwood – as director – argues that they might not be correct. And Eastwood makes his case powerfully…and convincingly. I don’t want to spoil the movie for those of you who have not yet seen Million Dollar Baby – so you will have to find out for yourself what I am talking about. Needless to say, like all the best movies, Million Dollar Baby challenges the viewer and asks them to join in the debate.
Oh, and the title ‘Million Dollar Baby’ makes much more sense once you have seen the movie!