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Clint Eastwood at 74 is once again showing his spurs as a director/actor. Last year he directed the searing Mystic River and was content to sit back and let Sean Penn and Tim Robbins walk off with the acting Oscars; this time out he directs himself playing Frankie Dunn an aging boxing trainer who takes on 31-year-old Maggie Fitzgerald (a pumped up Hilary Swank) despite believing female boxing is just ‘the latest freak show.‘

The story is told from the perspective of Frankie Dunn‘s partner at a crumbling gym Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris (Morgan Freeman repeating the narrative role he took in The Shawshank Redemption). Like the best sports movies, The Harder they Fall, Raging Bull and arguably He Got Game, Million Dollar Baby is not really about sports but human relationships. Indeed the film is at its worst when it operates as a boxing movie. Eastwood regurgitates every poor sports cliche invented as we see Fitzgerald transformed into a champion boxer. Thankfully these painful to watch moments fall by the wayside in favour of an essay on both the father- daughter relationship that develops between Dunn and Fitzgerald and the functional one between Dunn and Dupris.

It’s a hang up from his cowboy days, that Eastwood revels in the mythology of any character that starts off as hard as nails, yet through the course of the picture slowly thaws and reveals their human frailty. All Dunn, Fitzgerald and Dupris have is boxing and each other and in the absence of families of their own they become family to each other. Like Eastwood’s overrated jazz opus Bird, however, Million Dollar Baby is aesthetically and emotionally a dark movie that ultimately falls short because every rough edge is softened by a cliche. Here, Eastwood throws a handful of sugar in for good measure too. (Kaleem Aftab)

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,::' THE LIST 51