“Always protect yourself”
There’s a quietness in Clint Eastwood’s acting that I love. It’s a very deep introspection, where he communicates more in silence and glint than vocally with his now characteristic gravel. He takes the same approach to his direction.
He’s the kind of man that I’d pay to sit in front of while he speaks. Surely every sentence is packed with grandfatherly wisdom. The somber deliberation he paints in each scene of Million Dollar Baby only confirms it for me.
I have to be honest, I don’t even like boxing… or boxing movies, for that matter. Sure, I saw Rocky on video tape when I was 10 and had a new hero for the next 6 months to the tune of “Eye of the Tiger.”
But as with all great narratives, Million‘s plot is mere window dressing to the human drama underneath. I.e., it’s not about boxing.
What it is about is lost opportunities and overcome obstacles. Yet, I’m not doing it any justice by describing it as such. I lack the grace that Eastwood wields with his camera and piano. Yes that’s right, he did both for his latest film. There’s a distinct refinement and calmness to each one. He takes his time turning each page, yet there’s not a dull moment. In fact, there were two scenes that was near stomach-churning in their brutality.
Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) is paying a penance of sorts, attending Mass every day for 20 years. What are his secret sins? Is it guilt over the estrangement to his daughter? We never really know, as it should be. These private demons are hounding him to perdition.
Frankie’s the best cutter in the business. A cutter is the guy who stops a fighter’s swelling bruises by cutting open the contusion. To stop the wound, they then fill it with coagulant. Ironically, the motto he drills into his trainees is “always protect yourself.” It’s almost a platitude, since he is a master at prolonging a fighter’s time in the ring. Perhaps that’s why he hesitates signing his fighters on to the really dangerous — and profitable — fights.
Morgan Freeman’s Eddie Dupris is one of those ex-fighters that never saw his championship dream realized under Frankie’s tutelage. Yet, he remained faithful to Frankie, working in his gym all these years.
Frankie meets his match with the rather determined Maggie (Hilary Swank). The paternal dimension is obvious, but their relationship goes far beyond that. For one, she has to earn his respect. She even turns down offers to fight for higher profile trainers. In return, she earns Frankie’s respect through hard work. The two of them couldn’t be more opposite. But as Eddie narrates, “boxing is a game of opposites.”
It’s such a joy to see a film with such subtlety and purity of story. These don’t come along that often.