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On Clint Eastwood directing "Million Dollar Baby"

Clint Eastwood directing "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).

Some directors lose focus as they grow older. Others gain it, learning how to tell a story that contains everything it needs and absolutely nothing else. "Million Dollar Baby" is Eastwood's 25th film as a director, and his best. Yes, "Mystic River" is a great film, but this one finds the simplicity and directness of classical storytelling; it is the kind of movie where you sit very quietly in the theater and are drawn deeply into lives that you care very much about.

Read Ebert’s full review of “Million Dollar Baby.”

While the angels of death, damnation and frontier forgiveness have hovered over most of Eastwood's serious works, he has never made a more achingly spiritual movie than "Million Dollar Baby." In his development as a filmmaker, Eastwood long ago surpassed his great B movie mentors Don Siegel and Sergio Leone. For my money, he's topped John Ford and Howard Hawks, our greatest Western auteurs, once or twice as well. "Mystic River" out-Catholicized Scorsese and Coppola (and this one takes that several Hail Marys further). But with "Million Dollar Baby," Eastwood joins the rarefied ranks of the true cinema transcendentals Carl Theodor Dreyer, Yasujiro Ozu and Robert Bresson on the highest plane of directorial achievement. -- Bob Strauss, Los Angeles Daily News

I will say that for about 10 or 20 minutes you may be convinced that Eastwood has lost his mind, and that he has squandered the movie's smart, lusty vibe on the treacle of a tear-jerker. But he keeps going further and further, and slowly the wind fills the movie's sails again. Some in the audience will be lost for good, but that's the nature of risk. Others may realize that the bleakness has shape and a purpose, and that it's more unyielding, more mature, than most American movies can begin to contemplate.

"Million Dollar Baby" ultimately emerges into a cold light far from the bromides and consolations of Hollywood: What begins as a lark ends as a meditation on the costs of faith. You may carry this movie with you for quite some time, turning over its unspoken meanings. It's a film that rejects the church for the parishioners, that walks away from God and toward people, and that unexpectedly ascends to a battered, anonymous grace. More than "Unforgiven," more than "Mystic River," it is Clint Eastwood's autumnal masterpiece. -- Ty Burr, The Boston Globe

A compendium of every cliché from every bad boxing melodrama ever made, "Million Dollar Baby" (written by Paul Haggis from stories by F.X. Toole) tries to transcend its cornball overfamiliarity with the qualities that have long characterized Eastwood's direction -- it's solemn, inflated and dull….

But it's the po-faced portentousness with which Eastwood presents the movie's ludicrous developments that seems to wow his admirers. The movies are full of examples of directors who have transcended hokey material. But usually those filmmakers do it by going so intensely into the emotions of the piece that (as in Dickens) what's sentimental becomes transcendent. Eastwood takes the opposite approach -- he thinks that he can turn hokeyness into tragedy by pretending that the material isn't hokey, by dragging it out and drabbing it down. -- Charles Taylor,

"Million Dollar Baby” exemplifies filmmaking at its most solid, the kind that results when a director knows what he wants and goes after it with an easy sense of purpose. “Million Dollar Baby” has no interest in the quick knockout. It's an old-fashioned 15-rounder, a movie made by someone who plans to go the distance, allowing the material to do its job. This is not to say that Eastwood doesn't sometimes stumble with the occasional corny touch or false note. But at the end of the fight, he's still standing. The man has earned the late-career respect he seems to be getting, and praise for “Million Dollar Baby” shouldn't be viewed as any kind of critical handout. -- Robert Denerstein, Rocky Mountain News

"Million Dollar Baby" is all surface. Its climax is a sucker punch.....

Eastwood doesn't credibly build to his grave conclusion; it's a narrative trick that pretends to profundity. Because Eastwood has been operating in familiar, formulaic territory, when he finally does throw his left hook, some viewers will think the clichés have been deepened. Fact is, they've merely been stretched taut. Worst of all, Eastwood's clichés depend upon reworking class condescension into moral righteousness. “Million Dollar Baby” will only seem tragic (rather than bathetic) to those gullible Eastwood boosters who were eager to believe that the meretricious “Mystic River” was a worthy Bush-era bookend to “On the Waterfront”....

With Eastwood, the jolt is unearned; it's merely an effect. Eastwood doesn't start going for broke until the final half-hour, when the film suddenly becomes literally darker—a series of nearly monochrome images and silhouettes. It's stylistically bold, but hollow. -- Armond White, New York Press

[“Million Dollar Baby”] is just as formulaic as it sounds, but only up to a point. One of the many pleasures of this beautifully composed, measured movie is how it reminds you of the power of pure storytelling -- an art that's too often overlooked in contemporary films in the rush for sensation and excitement. Eastwood (who also composed the spare, melancholy score) keeps the pace slow and unhurried, as is his wont. In the past, that rhythm made some of his movies feel sluggish. But the material does not let him down this time. Every beat in “Million Dollar Baby” draws you closer to these three characters, and the narrative detours that the movie takes (like Eddie's paternal relationship with a mentally handicapped boxer at the gym, or Frankie and Maggie's visit to an out-of-the-way diner during a road trip) all pay off in their own understated ways. -- Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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