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On "Million Dollar Baby": What the critics said

Hilary Swank and Clint Eastood 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).

Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" is a masterpiece, pure and simple, deep and true. It tells the story of an aging fight trainer and a hillbilly girl who thinks she can be a boxer. It is narrated by a former boxer who is the trainer's best friend. But it's not a boxing movie. It is a movie about a boxer. What else it is, all it is, how deep it goes, what emotional power it contains, I cannot suggest in this review, because I will not spoil the experience of following this story into the deepest secrets of life and death. This is the best film of the year....

Movies are so often made of effects and sensation these days. This one is made of three people and how their actions grow out of who they are and why. Nothing else. But isn't that everything?

Read Ebert's full review of "Million Dollar Baby."

Now, I am not going to tell you anything about "Million Dollar Baby" that isn't there in the first 10 minutes...beyond the fact that "Million Dollar Baby" is going to win Best Picture, and my tears were not just for its story but for the movies. Because at long last someone has said, "Look, this is how you do it," and made a film that hits you like one of Hilary Swank's punches. -- David Thomson, The Independent

Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" is the best movie released by a major Hollywood studio this year, and not because it is the grandest, the most ambitious or even the most original. On the contrary: it is a quiet, intimately scaled three-person drama directed in a patient, easygoing style, without any of the displays of allusive cleverness or formal gimmickry that so often masquerade as important filmmaking these days. -- A. O. Scott, New York Times

It is easy enough to become teary-eyed, but perhaps somewhat more difficult to stand back a bit and consider the film’s logic and implications. A serious analysis will reveal that this is fool’s gold, not genuine social drama, not genuine social realism...and certainly not genuine social criticism....

The critical whitewash, with a few honorable exceptions, that "Million Dollar Baby" has received speaks to the essential unseriousness and superficiality of what passes for film criticism in the US at present. Eastwood’s film itself reveals the extent to which elementary democratic sentiment, as the result of a decades-long social and political process, including the anti-communist purges, has eroded in the US film industry. -- David Walsh, World Socialist Web Site

... Robert Rossen’s “Body and Soul” (1947), John Huston’s "Fat City" (1972), Scorsese’s "Raging Bull" (1980)... [“Million Dollar Baby"] joins the honor list of great fight films... Freeman narrates, in acrid tones, and, as he talks, we realize that the story is something told, a bit of a fable, a tall tale even, and more moving for that.... “Million Dollar Baby” has a beautifully modulated sadness that’s almost musical. Eastwood once made a movie about Charlie Parker (“Bird”), but this picture has the smoothly melancholic tones of Coleman Hawkins at his greatest. -- David Denby, The New Yorker

Heralded as a masterpiece by critics who consider Eastwood the greatest living American director, "Million Dollar Baby" is an exercise in obviousness. It's hard to exaggerate the crudity of this film, at least on a narrative level. (The screenplay is by Paul Haggis and is loosely based on stories by the late F.X. Toole.) If anyone but Eastwood—with his macho icon status and soft-pedal delivery (there's almost nothing left of the actor's vocal cords)—were to utter a line like "Girly, tough ain't enough," it would bring down the house. And if anyone but Morgan Freeman—so centered, watchful, canny—had played the sagacious Eddie, who finally takes over from a weirdly belligerent priest (Brian F. O'Byrne) as Frankie's spiritual adviser, the old-fashioned banality of the part would have flashed like a neon sign. At two points in the film, Maggie's family -- her fat, bedraggled momma, single-mother sister, and ex-con brother -- show up, and "trailer-trash" would be too subtle a designation: Eastwood practically superimposes dollar signs over their eyes. -- David Edelstein,

Brainwashing seems the only plausible explanation for the extraordinary praise given his drab, plodding movies. The overdeliberate, humorless revenge drama "Mystic River" was directed and hailed as if it were Greek tragedy -- and next to Eastwood's new "Million Dollar Baby," it is.... 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. -- Charles Taylor,

With so much success behind him, Eastwood continues to fearlessly tackle disturbing material that offers no assurance of public acceptance. He's got a lot on his mind -- mortality, moral decisions, living with mistakes and what one makes of one's short time on earth -- and he continues to hone his filmmaking style in a way so highly refined it approaches the abstract. -- Todd McCarthy, Variety

"Million Dollar Baby" is what you would presume it to be from its advertising: a heartfelt underdog boxing saga, in which Eastwood embodies the has-been-turned-grizzled trainer who stumbles upon a young champion and nurtures the rocket-to-Russia career he himself never had. Hardly a passionate enemy of clichés, Eastwood at his storytelling best can override their essential cliché-ness; "Unforgiven" remains a Hollywood high-water mark for the subversion of classic formula by way of its own tools....

Perhaps "Million Dollar Baby" should be seen as if it emerged from a movie-movie world Eastwood evidently still inhabits — the double-bill post-war 1950s and '60s, when Don Siegel and Robert Aldrich could make strong, conventional B movies that never hoped for either awards or monster receipts, just an audience with more of an interest in old-school yarn spinning than spectacle or effect. If the movie stoops and creaks a bit, it comes by its afflictions honestly. -- Michael Atkinson, The Village Voice

Ignorance might begin to explain why anyone would think Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" is a masterpiece. But to be sympathetic, it is a specific culturally bred ignorance, resulting from the unfortunate way movies have been divided between art and Hollywood. Eastwood's misleadingly titled drama shares a far from happy theme with Patrice Chéreau's “Son Frère” but takes the easy approach -- easy for American moviegoers to convince themselves it's good. How people who are emotionally close stumble within their relationships while individually struggling to survive -- and face death -- is a worthy topic. Getting at these themes through genre short cuts, Eastwood affects a certain mythos that some critics overrate as the essence of American storytelling... This doesn't mean that Eastwood commands the plangent emotionality of [1940's] "City for Conquest," nor that he is a modern classicist. It just proves that he thinks in simplistic terms that actually deny modern political complications. -- Armond White, New York Press

How can something so visually sepulchral envelop such heart? Paul Haggis’ script does not disappoint, either. Iconic, archetypal, timeless: call it anything but clichéd. "Million Dollar Baby" is an exquisite heartbreaker with social undercurrents: consider it a parallel to the fate of many in real life, Jessica Lynch’s dilemma, say: from a small town in West Virginia, with essentially no choice whatsoever, if you want the education to teach small children, earn the money for your education in Iraq behind the barrel of a gun. Poverty’s that way. America’s that way. I cannot help but love this movie. -- Ray Pride, Movie City News

"Million Dollar Baby" could have been sentimental or quaint, but Haggis and Eastwood are made of sterner stuff. In his clean, unhurried, unblinking fashion, Eastwood takes the audience to raw, profoundly moving places. If you fear strong emotions, this is not for you. But if you want to see Hollywood filmmaking at its most potent, Eastwood has delivered the real deal. --David Ansen, Newsweek

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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