15 March, 2005

Rebuke: Million Dollar Baby

I don't like to do this, I HATE when someone guts a movie I've enjoyed, even if I'm aware of its weaknesses. But I feel strongly, who knows, this may save lives, or at least a couple of hours of life. This is not a review it's a rant, so don't expect logical argument to overwhelm the vitriol.

Spoiler Alert! Reading this will spoil any potential enjoyment you may get from watching this film, not because we will reveal any major plot points (although I will skirt these unsuccessfully), but because I will point out how simplistic, crass, and two dimensional this over-rated piece of crap is, and even if you only half agree with me on any of my points you will not suffer through its interminable running time, unless you are a cine-ma-sochist.

I had the cards stacked slightly against me when I saw this film, I had seen a review that gave away part of the plot turn that determines the final act of the story. I worried that perhaps I did not enjoy watching it because I sat through the slow, glaringly predictable first two thirds, that I was marking time waiting for "the thing" to happen. Looking back now, this only coloured my judgement only slightly.

Everyone praises the acting! I'm mystified by this now, it's as if we all feel sorry for these admittedly good actors because they've been stuck with such thinly defined characters. We want to believe that they have breathed life into these useless creations, but great acting, are these roles that stretched anyone? Let's see, Clint plays a grizzled veteran of his profession with both personal and professional regrets, Morgan plays the older wiser black sidekick (he is precariously close to being Clint's property in the film). Perhaps Hilary had to act her socks off, this time her determined tom-boyish character is stripped of any sexuality, and is given an insane pluckiness with a self-destructive desire to be pummelled. Some mistake how worthy or admirable character is for acting, but Hilary's character doesn't learn from mistakes, only winning well through quick knock outs, and ignoring advice from Clint's trainer she spent half the film trying to acquire, developing no endurance, and in the final act she simply takes the easy way out. Even that, Hilary's character does, as she does everything else, with "gritty determination." One suspects she passes water, files taxes, or even relaxes on the beach with "gritty determination"; so much for an emotional range to test those acting muscles.

The whole film takes place in a hermetically sealed universe, the only glimpse of any reality beyond the boxing ring and training gym are Clint's visits to a sarky priest, Hilary's cardboard dysfunctional family who have clearly wandered in off the sets of both Rosanne and the Beverly Hillbillies. This could go a long way to explain Hilary as the grown-up member of the Jukes family who enjoys being scalded with boiling water. Even the hospital at the end of the film seems to be a set barely populated by doctors, nurses, other patients, or even well-wishers of the supposedly world famous boxer. A retarded boxer's character seems to exist merely to provide Morgan with a brief moment of validation fending off an inexplicably thuggish bully.

"Fable" is the get out clause invoked. It is only a mark of how crass this film is in its treatment of its serious issues by reducing all but the trio of main characters to ridiculous cyphers that would be more at home in a teen gross out comedy. Once Hilary has been paralysed by the villainous Eastern European dirty fighter (which Rocky was that cribbed from?), I did half expect the rest of the film to be her plucky, determined (possibly even gritty) struggle to achieve Christopher Reeve like strides towards heroic partial recovery -- instead it becomes a different after-school special, one that might even make Dr. Kevorkian queasy. We've been told throughout what a fighter this character is, but as she ultimately fights to swallow her own tongue, her only motivations being that she has no real life and has Clampett's as kin. We, the audience are asked to endure all that the main character never learns to. Some have rightly complained that this film tries to justify assisted suicide (which may have other reasonable justifications), when its only message is that your white-trash family will drive you to suicide.

Addendum: I've just seen Being Julia, and while not ordinarily a Annette Benning fan (disliked her in American Beauty), she was robbed! One of the most thorough layered performances I've ever seen (up along co-star Jeremy Irons turns in Dead Ringers and that Claus Von Bulow movie). So as far as the awards things go the AMPAS electorate have unsurprisingly become just as inexplicably stupid as the American voters.



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