December 28, 2004

MOVIES: Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, 2004)

Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby has been winning rave reviews, which baffles me. It's a slow, ponderous, self-important bore, utterly convinced of its own importance, and never remotely entertaining.

Eastwood plays (as usual) a grizzled, but ultimately lovable, old coot; this time, he's a boxing trainer/manager, working out of his run-down Los Angeles gym. He's approached by Hilary Swank, playing her usual role of Plucky Pore Whaht Traysh, who wants him to train her; he reluctantly agrees, despite the fact that she's about fifteen years too old to begin a boxing career. The whole thing is narrated by St. Morgan Freeman in his most wise and omniscient tone; he's a broken-down boxer who was managed by Eastwood and helps run the gym.

For a while, it looks as if Million Dollar Baby is just going to be an unusually somber Rocky retread. There's the obligatory training sequence, the montage of Swank's early victories and her rise through the ranks, and so on. We get a visit to Swank's family in the Missouri Ozarks, so that we may giggle at the depths which she is trying to rise above. (The talented character actress Margo Martindale works valiantly as Swank's mother, but the part is such an offensive and repellent cliche that she cannot redeem it.)

About 45 minutes from the end, there is a dramatic plot twist -- well, it's meant to be dramatic, at any rate, but it's so implausible that I wound up giggling -- and the movie heads into the territory of Important Social Issue Picture. Everyone gets misty-eyed, Eastwood croaks out the obligatory "you're like a daughter to me" speech (he is conveniently estranged from his own daughter for unspecified reasons), and we get an ending that clubs us upside the head with a message of ostensible redemption.

The movie is relentlessly heavy; the only brief glimmers of humor come in some early scenes between Eastwood and his priest, who is nicely played by Brian O'Byrne. Eastwood's score, largely for solo guitar -- the orchestra doesn't take over until after The Plot Twist -- only adds to the movie's bleak landscape.

I am perplexed beyond understanding that this movie has received any good reviews, much less the sort of glowing praise it's getting; I think it's a complete disaster.

No comments: