Clint Eastwood's latest movie, Million Dollar Baby is a work of art?#34;except for the title, which belongs on some other film. By "work of art," I don't mean what the term, sadly, has come to mean, i.e. a work of "technical perfection" or "high-definition realism." By "art," I mean the realm the film works in?#34;not quite realistic, but very recognizable.
It's a realm that many of us can't quite put into words, but we know it when we get there. I apply the "humanity" test. Art puts us in touch with our humanity. If you come out of a film feeling somehow more "human" or "humane" than you went in, you've just experienced a work of art.
Not many Hollywood films work in the realm of art, making it all the more obvious. It's like the first time you read a really good short story. And this film is based on a series of short stories, penned by F. X. Toole. If the movie is any indication, they're probably worth reading.
Million Dollar Baby is Eastwood's best film since Unforgiven, at least that I've seen. I didn't see Mystic River, but judging by the praise it received, he's really on a roll.
This movie transcends its genre?#34;the boxing flick?#34;which is another clear indicator of art. In some ways it's really more of a love story though it's not a romance. It's a story of great love?#34;between a very unlikely pair, a grizzled old trainer and a young female boxer.
Eastwood plays trainer Frankie Dunn, at times a bit too grizzled with raspy voice and employing his trademark scowl. He's a man carrying a heavy burden of guilt, though we never find out why he's estranged from his daughter. He writes her every week, but all his letters are returned, making him truly one of the unforgiven.
Hilary Swank is wonderful in the role of Maggie Fitzgerald, the boxer with the big dream and the determination to win over even an old curmudgeon like Dunn, who owns the seedy gym in a seedy part of L.A., populated by the usual cast of punks, losers, wannabes, and hopefuls.
Boxing has always served as a useful metaphor for the struggle of life?#34;those seeking to battle their way up the societal ladder, fighting for respect in a culture that doesn't bestow it easily.
Eastwood's sidekick at the gym, Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris, played by Morgan Freeman, provides the narration, and the wisdom, in his role as chief observer. He's a better actor than Eastwood, good enough in fact not to steal the movie from him.
Besides, Swank steals it from both of them?#34;as intended, no doubt. She's tough, yet attractive in a realistic way, but from time to time, she's absolutely radiant.
The brutality of the boxing scenes aren't as excessive and unrealistic as those typically found in this genre, thanks partly to the fact that the fights are over so quickly.
The after-effects of the film, however, linger long.