Friday, February 04, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

I finally got a chance to see Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby last night, and it was outstanding.

I profoundly disagree with the hopeless outlook of the movie (and the solution presented, which if you've heard anything about it, you already know about), but it's superbly done from start to finish. Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Hilary Swank are all tremendous, and Eastwood has grown into a director who ranks with the best. In fact, it's hard to think of anyone in Hollywood history who's done better work in the "twilight" of his career than Eastwood has since Unforgiven in the early 90's--a film that came out at least a full decade after the tail end of Eastwood's reign as one of Hollywood's highest-grossing stars.

Eastwood has a directorial style that elicits Oscar-worthy performances from his stars without resorting to the standard artsy-director "look at me" tricks (i.e. special effects, weird camera angles, jump-cuts, etc.). He simply tells a smooth story, drawing you in without dropping constant reminders that This Is A Movie.

You've already probably heard or read lots about this film so I won't go back over that ground. I'll just offer two observations:

1). The publicity surrounding the film ruined much of its impact. I intentionally avoided reading reviews, because I didn't want to see spoilers, but almost every headline I've seen about it refers to the word "euthanasia." Because of that, I pretty much figured out what was coming, and had a sense of foreboding throughout the first 2/3 of the film. I guess the only solution is to see movies the first day they come out.

2). For all his talent, one thing Eastwood has never been able to do is resist caracaturing bad guys. In just about every one of his movies (the Dirty Harry series, which I love, particularly comes to mind), the bad guys are nothing short of ridiculous. They're cartoon characters. Malkovich in In the Line of Fire. The guy with the acne in Dirty Harry. That snaggle-toothed gal in Sudden Impact. Ridiculous. The same holds true for the "bad guys" (i.e. the redneck family of Swank's character) in Baby.

But that's quibbling. The fact is, a guy who, for most of his career, was known as a one-note shoot-'em-up star is now one of the finest director/actors in Hollywood.

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