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Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Directed by:

Clint EastwoodClint Eastwood

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 137 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12a

Country: United States

After the ‘Every Which Way But Loose’ movies, you’d be forgiven for thinking Clint Eastwood might have had just about enough of making films where he teams up with a short, long-haired companion and travels the world getting into fist-fights. Not that there’s anything wrong with Clyde the orang-utan (in fact, his acting abilities put many of today’s stars to shame), but given the Clintster’s double-Oscar nomination last year for the deadly serious ‘Mystic River’, you’d think he might have moved on a bit from those days.

Shows what I know though, for ‘Million Dollar Baby’ is a marvellous piece of work from the world-renowned actor-director. He plays Frankie Dunn, a grizzled boxing manager who’s left twiddling his thumbs when hot prospect Big Willie Little (Mike Colter) walks out on him to join a big-time promoter. Against his better judgement, he ends up managing Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank). She’s far too old to make it and, worse still, she’s a girlie. But, with a little nudge along the way from long-time buddy Eddie (Morgan Freeman), he ends up forming a partnership with his new protégé which looks destined to take the pair of them all the way to the title.

But ‘Million Dollar Baby’ is not all it seems. I could never have predicted what was to come in the final section of the film, where the whole thing takes a gargantuan change in direction and turns into a different beast entirely. Without straying from my remit and giving the game away, it’s difficult for me to elaborate much more than that – but let’s just say that any dwindling suspicions of this being just another formulaic sports movie are well and truly put to rest.

Sporting flicks are notoriously difficult to direct and even harder to keep cliché-free, but Eastwood achieves both feats with the sort of aplomb that seems certain to propel him to yet more recognition come the various New Year gong ceremonies. The performances are superb too, with Swank finally recapturing the form which won her the Best Actress Oscar for ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ fully five years ago (since then, her name has almost become rhyming slang for the quality of her projects). And I can’t forget to applaud Freeman. He’s another one who’s made some appalling career choices over recent years (his last three big screen appearances, ‘The Big Bounce, Bruce Almighty and Dreamcatcher, were all rubbish), but comes up trumps here with a cracking display.

This is an intelligent, thoughtful film, not so much about boxing itself but about the complexities of human relationships and the super-charged level of emotion which sport can so often work as a catalyst for. Seriously, who needs orang-utans?

It's Got: Mr Eastwood wearing his waistband up around his oxters, Simon Cowell style.

It Needs: Not just to be experienced by boxing fans – this is one that all fans of good film should make a point of seeing.

Alternatives:

Against the Ropes, Girlfight, Rocky

Summary

Possibly the most accomplished film of Clint Eastwood’s career. Clyde who?

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