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On Clint Eastwood in "Million Dollar Baby"

Frankie Dunn: Clint Eastwood, Maggie Fitzgerald: Hilary Swank, Scrap: Morgan Freeman

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Paul Haggis, based on stories from Rope Burns by F. X. Toole (Jerry Boyd). Running time: 133 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for violence, some disturbing images, thematic material and language).

Eastwood, who doesn't carry a spare ounce on his lean body, doesn't have any padding in his movie, either: Even as the film approaches the deep emotion of its final scenes, he doesn't go for easy sentiment, but regards these people, level-eyed, as they do what they have to do.

Read Ebert’s full review of “Million Dollar Baby

... Eastwood has begun to search for better and better material and in the process he has enlarged himself as an actor and an artist. The key to that is his performance in "Million Dollar Baby": it is the first time, I feel, that Eastwood has decided not to be "Clint", but to find another character. And the magical bonus of that effort is that, in the process, I think we are getting our first glimpse of the real Eastwood.... The nearest I will come to talking about "Million Dollar Baby" is to say that it's close to a confession from a man who doubts that he has been an ideal father. That is art, and it is new in Eastwood. Yet the impact of his movie is enough to restore your faith in a medium that once knew to bring the lights up slowly as a film ended -- to help the audience find its way back to reality. -- David Thomson, The Independent

…Eastwood, while going beyond his usual glare and wince, doles out his feelings slowly, parsimoniously, with powerful restraint. -- David Denby, The New Yorker

Eastwood has made his "Vera Drake," and damned if the great stone face won't make you cry in the end; he even sheds a tear before it's over, and no apologies are offered, mister. -- Ken Eisner, Georgia Straight

Frankie is the latest in a lengthening line of crusty old-timers Mr. Eastwood has played since he became eligible for AARP membership, joining the gunnery sergeant in ''Heartbreak Ridge'' and the retired astronaut from ''Space Cowboys'' (among many others) in an unequaled pantheon of leathery masculinity. Perhaps no American actor besides Gene Hackman (who joined Mr. Eastwood and Mr. Freeman in ''Unforgiven'') has ripened with such relish, becoming more fully and complicatedly himself as he grows older. -- A.O. Scott, The New York Times

The actor's “fiercely minimalist” style has evolved into a gruffly masculine expressiveness we have seen in his William Munny and Robert Kincaid in “The Bridges Of Madison County,'' the ability to express emotional anguish and spiritual agony by striking a few notes with perfect clarity.

Eastwood reminds us that suffering has a masculine side. Frankie shares spiritual chromosomes with the tormented males of novelist Graham Greene, if not John Bunyan. Even his view of winning reeks of tough-guy pessimism: “Winners are simply willing to do what losers won't.” Frankie is a sinner wrestling with the devil for his soul. That he is also a “cut man,” someone prized in boxing circles for his ability to staunch the flow of blood, is one of the film's supreme ironies. -- James Verniere, The Boston Herald

In a boxing soap-opera way, Eastwood is trying to do for himself as a performer what Sergio Leone did for him in a spaghetti-western way: douse his rough-hewn banality with reflected emotional coloration. Thanks to Swank, for a patch or two, the strategy works. But then he brings on the brutality and bathos. If any director proves that sadomasochism is just the evil twin of sentimentality, it's Eastwood in “Million Dollar Baby.” -- Michael Sragow, The Baltimore Sun

Over the course of his career, Eastwood has gone from playing the Man with No Name, a "Don't mess with me" loner, to playing a series of sentimentalized old geezers. Frankie is the latest…. How can audiences not laugh at the sight of Eastwood moaning and groaning as he drops to his knees to say his bedtime prayers? It's not the act of prayer that's worthy of being laughed at -- it's Eastwood's cheap grab at audience sympathy by playing up Frankie's aches and pains. Eastwood, still in fine condition at 74, wears his pants hiked up so that it looks as if his belt is trying to locate his nipples….

At least when Burgess Meredith did this stuff in the "Rocky" movies he had the good hammy sense to treat it like the hokum it was. "Million Dollar Baby" is a piece of ham intended for those who keep kosher. Its dried-out, humorless achieved grubbiness is meant to purify it, to lift it above its melodramatic roots. Eastwood's performance is one long wince, and he directs as if it would hurt him to throw in a little lightness, a little color, one scene that didn't look like it was shot in a gas station bathroom. -- Charles Taylor, Salon.com

Again, [Eastwood] gets superlative, Oscar-worthy performances from his actors, including himself. It may be that only Spencer Tracy and Paul Newman (and can someone explain to me how Eastwood and Newman have avoided making a movie together?) aged as well and as interestingly onscreen. -- Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press

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