Million Dollar Baby
Bill Long 2/27/05
Some Unfashionable Comments
A I pored over the reviews of this latest Clint Eastwood flick, I saw such glowing comments that I wondered whether the movie the critics saw was the same one I saw in theater 19 at Arizona Center in Phoenix on 2/25/05. Though the movie had an endearing lead in Hillary Swank and the tried-and-true narrator (and supporting actor) in Morgan Freeman, I found the purported emotional depth of Clint Eastwood to be unconvincing and even predictable. When it was combined with a shallow portrait of a man estranged from his daughter as well as a fairly untheological depiction of a man struggling with his faith in God, you have a trinity of psychological banalities that ought to have made critical reviewers hold back no punches in reviewing the film.
But, alas, it didn't. In this review, however, I will only focus on what I consider either to be the shallowness of Eastwood's character or the moments that Eastwood as director could have struck gold, only to emerge with less than the bronze. First is the predictable nature of the plot. Eager girl comes to gym to learn how to box with crusty, grizzled, hardened, chauvinistic male owner of club. You could see a mile a way that she would manage to pry through the hardened exterior, even as he continued to protest that he was not that interested in her. Yawn. Then, once this "theme" of the movie (hardened guy gradually giving in) had been trotted out, it was pretty obvious to me that the moment that Hillary Swank became paralyzed through the illegal blow in the championship match, that Clint would be called upon to disengage the life support system sooner or later. And, guess what? He did.
Such predictability would not have been half so bad had not Morgan Freeman, one of the truly classy actors of our day, had to play his predictable role as sidekick and sage commentator ala Red in "Shawshank Redemption." Freeman was so successful in Shawshank that it was just too good for Eastwood to pass over, but still I was thrown back to Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman many times in the great state of Maine while viewing "Million Dollar Baby," rather than to Eastwood and Freeman in the film I was watching.
Religion Misportrayed Again
Then, there is the matter of religion. Of course, since Mel Gibson so miserably portrayed Christ last year there is little hope of mainstream (or even marginal) Hollywood portraying Christian themes with anything like theological sophistication, but hope springs eternal, especially in a comfortable theater chair. Eastwood is an angry, guilt-ridden Catholic (imagine that) who never gets around to revealing to the Priest the nature of his anger or guilt, though one suspects it has something to do with an estranged relationship with a daughter whose only appearance is through the suggestion of letters returned to sender (i.e., to Clint) when Clint arrives home from various boxing trips. Yet, the themes of brooding guilt and anger, without exploration, lay so little claim on depth that to say the opposite is laughable indeed.
How could the theme have been handled better? Show the pastor preaching on a theme from the Book of Job, maybe Job's anger at God for taking away his family, or Job's sense that God has broken him in two, has hated him, has twisted justice, is not giving him room to swallow his spittle or has put him into a corner. One could easily find pugilistic themes in the Book of Job that would have landed some real punches on Clint and the viewer had they been presented and massaged.
Then, there is one theme that Clint let fall through his fingers. Eastwood's daughter is estranged from him. At the end of the movie Morgan Freeman writes a "letter" to her to explain who her daddy was, but the only other "traces" of his daughter are letters returned to sender which Clint discovers after he has returned from his boxing trips. [Incidentally, the number of letters on the floor was confusing at times....]. Two opportunities were lost. First, if Clint had been a macho but sensitive man, he could have "let slip" a few lines, possibly even of ambiguous meaning, about his daughter to Freeman. Like a Shakespeare line that zings the hearer right to the heart, such a line or two could have made us much more sympathetic with Eastwood. Then, there could have been a more complex emotional drama between Eastwood and Hillary Swank. Certainly Swank was about the same age as Eastwood's daughter. Some hints should have been made about how Swank's entry into his life either stimulated longing or suppressed fears or opened emotional wounds, or something in Clint....But there is nothing on this, either.
Thus, as director, Eastwood dropped the ball more times than catchers dropped Hoyt Wilhelm's knucklers over the years. Comments by reviewers, therefore, regarding the emotional depth of the character portraits either are themselves shallow comments or are testimony to my being completely out of my depth.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long