Like a fight, teardrops do fall, blood does burst out, sweat does drop, people do yell, shout and clap. Yet, like a fight, concentration is needed to win. Focusing on your inner strength would help you soar. And there is this huge amount of intensed feeling one can not escape.
MILLION DOLLAR BABY kicks around a classical rags-to-riches fairy tale of one’s determination towards her passion to do what she likes to do, and indeed, prevails to success and stardom. The object of this story centers on Maggie Fitzgerald, a forever-being-waitress woman at her mid-30s who long for a break out of her horrenduous life and found her oasis in boxing. When she sneaks herself in a boxing gym owned by Frankie Dunn, a retired athlete himself, and taken care of by his faithful friend, Eddie Scrap, she is merely being seen as a girl trying to do the impossible. Yet, her persistence wins over Frankie’s ego to train her and launch her professional career into a sensational and phenomenal boxer. However, one occurence would change both their lives in an unexpected way.
You don’t want me to reveal the big surprise, do you?
Then keep yourself seated well and just bear the first 30 minute or so if you find the scenes are a bit lengthy to concentrate on, for the real story begins to build up afterwards, with painfully real fighting scenes shown throughout. However, the power of this film lies mostly on the intensity built between the characters and the settings they are in.
And this is what Clint Eastwood has always done his best: intensity.
Intensed performances from his actors in portraying emotional conflicts within their characters, as captured vividly throughout his films, ranging from bravura performance of Forest Whitaker in Bird, to all-human like character of Gene Hackman in Unforgiven, to sensitivity portrayed by Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County, to brooding Sean Penn does his career best in Mystic River, and the baby herself Hilary Swank who throws herself into complexity portraying the progress of an all woman from desperation to over-joyedness and plunge into falldown all over again. Swank does a justice to this series of great performances of actors in Eastwood’s films and obediently obeying the rules subconsciously set here: no over-the-top dramatic acting style needed, and the intensity of performances needs not be following a certain infamous ‘method’ either. As Maggie, who shifts dramatically from a mere waitress to a boxing star, Swank smoothly plays the character in her own way that eventhough we may not be able to see her immensely becoming Maggie Fitzgerald, unlike the way she magically did with her Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry, we are unable to resist the feeling of being moved and admire this hard-willed character who does not stop fighting until the end of the story. Note how I choose not to use the word ‘symphatize’ here to describe our emotive feeling towards the central character here, as Eastwood aptly decides to portray Maggie in a plain-Jane manner, we can still see her flaws, her naivety and innocence which all make her simply human.
Second intensity that Eastwood excels in doing is, obviously, the intensed story of the film itself, that allows a certain decisive manner in how he wishes to present his film to be, and within the intensity of the story, we are able to see characters’ development that is very focused to suit the whole atmosphere of the film. Most of the times, we are taken into stillness of statutory presence of Freeman and Eastwood who command the scenes whenever they are in, and in the quietness, they deliver the subtext lines that serve well in drawing our attention deeper to the story.
In addition, haunting scores done by Eastwood himself in the tradition of similar simplistic music concept he did earlier in Madison County and Mystic River, gives an enhancement of moody atmosphere suited well to the whole context of this film.
As such, Eastwood prove himself to be alive and kicking hard by delivering this powerful film that punches hard in silence. Among the crowds of brainless, sound/visual effects-maddening trash, Million slips quietly and win over our hearts for its sincerity, plainness frank of storytelling that seems to be a rarity these days.