Million Dollar Baby

Flawlessly old-fashioned character drama about a struggling female boxer (Hilary Swank) and the grizzled old trainer (Eastwood) who reluctantly takes her under his wing. I don't have much to add to the praise that's already been heaped upon this film, but I definitely want to opine that I think this is the best thing Eastwood's ever helmed - though that's not saying much. His films usually don't do anything for me, but here he directs - and performs - with great sensitivity.

Of course, this is as much Hilary Swank's movie as it is his, and it's no surprise that she won her second Oscar for this performance. I'd like to take a moment and discuss Swank's truly weird career. Her first major role was in The Next Karate Kid, which flopped, though she was most likely cast for her tomboyishness. After floundering for years with minor roles and TV guest star spots, she won the Oscar for Boys Don't Cry - where she played a female-to-male transgender. Despite her handlers' efforts to play up her feminine side, she was only offered a handful of new projects, in generally sexless supporting roles. Still, the wide-eyed, toothsome actress always gave it her all, until the next great role for her turned up - as yet another tomboy - in Million Dollar Baby. In fact, if there's only one detrimental comment I can make about her performance in this film, it's that it's virtually the same as her work in Boys Don't Cry. But it's still great stuff. (Though God only knows what unsatisfying parts wait for her still.)

As for the film itself, I'm still wondering why Eastwood chose Los Angeles instead of Boston for this tale of Irish Americans, and I could understand if some criticize its villains (an opponent who plays dirty, Maggie's white trash family) as being too one-sided. But man, you really get to hate those ugly people just as much as you grow to love Swank, Eastwood, and the redoubtable Morgan Freeman as Eastwood's longtime friend and former boxer. Million Dollar Baby is a highly emotional film that gives us a trio of richly detailed, unforgettable characters. I'm sure it will be just as rightfully praised in fifty years as it is today.