In the span of just two movies, Clint Eastwood has managed to cement his position as a formidable director with a distinct voice and style that is as unique as it is gripping. Hitting cinemas almost a year after his much-lauded 'Mystic River' is 'Million Dollar Baby', from the outset a female boxing movie. But the drama unfolds and uncoils with deliberation and allure until a cruel third act reveals the deeper machinations of the plot. Its not really a twist, but it is jolting and for most will be the pivot upon which their like or dislike of the film eventually tilts.
Eastwood's characters are imbibed with a shady past that they'd like to forget and his Frankie Dunn is cut from the same cloth. A trainer in a haggard old small town gym, he is pugnacious and abysmally forlorn. Into his world steps Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) a waitress with ounces of stubborn determination. Resolute in becoming a championship boxer, she insists Frankie take her under his wing, but she is ignored and left on her own. Frank soon realizes his mistake in disregarding her and comes to respect her late blossoming talent helping her make outstanding wins in nationwide boxing circuits. Along with help from his long time friend Eddie (Morgan Freeman), the three band well together, with Frankie becoming an eventual father figure and Eddie a rock of support for Maggie.
But this isn't just a boxing movie because it isn't just about boxing alone; there is too much else going on. We see Maggie go through a family crisis and Frankie's bouts with his fledging faith. Swank nails her part down perfectly. She is athletic, willful and complex in her motivations. She doesn't just talk about being determined she shows it. Her win at the Oscars earlier this week was well deserved. The others too perform exceptionally, notably Freeman, who was also rightfully awarded and Eastwood, who sheds his disregard to give way to concern. Their friendship is the rarely seen kind, one that transcends the boundaries of time and crosses into mutual esteem. But 'Million Dollar Baby' is not without certain questionable elements, none of which can be discussed without major plot revelations being made. Much debate has raged over its concluding act and it is certain to leave a stunning and impacted moral dilemma that will only grow as the questions in viewers mind remain either puzzlingly unanswered or disturbingly prodding. I personally thought things could have shot off in a tangent and taken a different, more humane turn, but Eastwood, in his newfound comfortable position behind the camera, has other ideas. His perception of a harsh world is all too evident and the relentless manner in which he executes allows the film to get under your skin like no other movie this year.
While well directed with great use of silhouettes and having some heart pounding boxing sequences, don't go to a screening of 'Million Dollar baby' because it won Clint Eastwood an academy award for best direction and picture, though it is probably worthy of those awards. This is austere piece of gut wrenching cinema, unflinching, as it is unforgiving, that shows how people find hope, if only for sometime. - Faizan Rashid