Sunday, 13 February 2011

Million Dollar Baby

So I'm going to start with a series of three quite different and unrelated films. The only connection is that in rapid succession I had movie recommendations from three important people in my life - my mum, my girlfriend and my flatmate. The first, recommended by my flatmate, was Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby.

This is very much a film in two parts. The first adheres to many a cliche of underdog movies - Old timer boxing manager reluctantly agrees to take on 'aging' but determined girl from underprivileged background, with everything to prove. Cue montages, rapid success and much father daughter style bonding (I may have imagined the montage, but it certainly wouldn't have been out of place), along with the obligatory Morgan Freeman voiceover.

Then, it's all change. World championship success is imminent, it's been almost too easy... surely there's going to be more to this simple tale? Surely something's got to give?! And sure enough, it does. One foul punch from the defending champion leaves Swank's character, Maggie, paralysed from the neck down. Wow, so this was an unexpected game changer. Maybe there is some spontaneity to this film after all! But alas no, Eastwood trades one set of cliches for another. We now have hospitalised free spirit yearning for the release of death, and sad old man who must come to terms with the loss of the daughter he finally found. There are 'heart rending' tropes aplenty, all around good people getting unjustly treated by life. One example being the vulnerable 'Danger' a character set up for the sole purpose of embodying innocence, only to get beaten up by some no good boxing thugs. We see more of Maggie's trailer trash family, more interested in her money than her life. Characters there to further make us pity the main characters with their meagre lot.

Its high production values make it very nice to watch. The pace, lighting and music make for a gentle and soothing, if predictable, ride to the middle of the film. Dialogue is stilted and unreal, but in a poetic and soothing way, the grizzled voices of the male leads, both in or nearing their 70s, and the charm of Swank's southern States drawl are strangely compelling.

In many ways, this is one of the most cliched movies I have ever seen. The only originality is the juxtaposing of the two halves which are slightly different, if very overdone genres. It does, however do them well, part cheese, part charm, and if you've never seen a film with Morgan Freeman narration before, then this should make for an enjoyable experience. It's a nice piece of soothing escapism reminiscent of a bed time story.

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