*Million Dollar Baby (2004)*

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Starring: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Jay Baruchel, Mike Colter (his first film), Brian F. O’Byrne, Lucia Rijker, Beloved Character Actress Margo Martindale, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena

Director: Clint Eastwood

Summary: A determined woman works with a hardened boxing trainer to become a professional

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Eastwood), Actress (Swank)*, Supporting Actor (Freeman)*, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing

A simple, stripped down and endearing movie with a…surprising…third act if you weren’t spoiled about it coming in (which I was). With her Oscar-winning performance her, Hilary Swank joined Luise Rainer and Glenda Jackson as the most forgotten members on the “Actresses with Multiple Best Actress Oscars” list for the same reasons as the other two: they all started off with a bang winning two awards in quick succession and then did almost nothing of note afterwards. Regardless, she is excellent in the role: besides the obvious physical dedication required for it, she also possess the pure goodness and earnestness needed for it in spades. Eastwood plays a crusty, grumbling old man, aka basically every role he’s had since 1990, but he always does it well and in the third act displays a lot of genuine pathos. I would be surprised though that Freeman won an Oscar for his solid but not especially noteworthy performance, except that every man, woman and child loves Morgan Freeman and he should have an Oscar to his name, so fine.

The story here is simple but effective, about taking risks and trusting others, moving on from sins of the past, and broadly about the classic American dream of reaching the top through nothing else besides heart and hard work; however, what ultimately makes the film memorable is its basic story about a female boxer wanting to make something of herself and having a sort of father-daughter relationship with an old trainer who is estranged from his own daughter and sees an opportunity to do it right this time, and how well these two characters are written and acted. The film never loses focus on what really matters and the result, along with a talented director, is a mostly great screenplay and overall film. The only thing about the screenplay that I thought could have been better was its total reliance on (multiple) pure evil one-dimensional villain characters, which stuck out as overbearing in a film like this; also, how is the women’s champion not banned from the sport after literally every fight of hers? That one just kind of annoyed me as the film abandoned all real-world logic for the sake of narrative there.

I would be remiss to not mention the “twist”, or that the third act is basically an avalanche of sadness. I didn’t have a problem with Eastwood’s character’s decision because I don’t necessarily think the filmmakers endorsed his actions (his is a deeply flawed and troubled character after all), but it does feel like the film stacked the deck a little too hard and reveled in misery just a bit too much to get the audience there leading up to it. With all that said, this is still a really poignant film that is well worth watching for the dynamic between the main two characters and their respective performances.

Rating: B+

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