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The UnPopular Opinion: Million Dollar Baby

06.18.2014

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

This week will see the latest entry in Clint Eastwood's filmography as a director, JERSEY BOYS. The musical may seem at odds with the films Eastwood has made to date, but with varying subject matter and genres, you can never quite pin down what Clint will make next. While we always will look at his best films like MYSTIC RIVER, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, and UNFORGIVEN (to name a few), Eastwood is often praised as a filmmaker despite the movies not being as great as advertised. Case in point, the highly overrated MILLION DOLLAR BABY.

To say that MILLION DOLLAR BABY was the Best Picture of the year when it was released in 2004 is akin to saying that CRASH deserved the award the following year.  Rarely have we had two back to back years with less deserving films triumphing over much better competition, but that is a discussion for a different column.  I am here to share my critique on Clint Eastwood's empowering sports drama which is instead the most bleak and depressing film to be released in recent memory.  Not only does the film miss chances to tell an empowering tale, it instead wallows in a depressingly "real" take on the aftermath of traumatic injury.  I am by no means saying that every sports film has to be a Disney-fied uplifting movie like THE ROOKIE or INVINCIBLE, but it is the focus of the second half of MILLION DOLLAR BABY that prevents it from being a sports film.

The Next Karate Kid, Part II

There are two distinct stories going on in this movie and neither truly reconciles with the other.  First, you have the grizzled old coach teaching the young rookie the ways of boxing.  That in and of itself would have been a movie I would have wanted to see.  The other is the traumatic aftershocks of a brutal injury and how it affects the athlete and those closest to her.  That may have been a movie I wanted to see.  Instead, we get an incomplete mash-up of the two that plays like the writer and director could not figure out which story they wanted to tell so they told both.  Released at the height of the Terry Schiavo case in the media, MILLION DOLLAR BABY feels like a boxing movie with a current events message tacked on at the end. Many praised the dramatic pulse this gave the film, but for me it just becomes an eye-rolling turn that made me question why I had just wasted two hours of my life.

Like CRASH the following year, MILLION DOLLAR BABY comes from screenwriter Paul Haggis who seems to come from the M. Night Shyamalan school of forcing in plot twists whether they are warranted or not. Granted, MILLION DOLLAR BABY is adapted from a short story collection by F.X. Toole, but that doesn't mean the screenwriter is not responsible for making such a stark plot element more palatable. Instead, we get force fed a message about euthanasia that could otherwise have been downplayed or at least presented in a less overt manner.

If you are gonna fight like a bitch, I'm gonna slap you like a bitch.  Now, get off my damn lawn!

Before tackling Eastwood's direction, let's look at the cast. The three primary players here were all nominated for Academy Awards, with only Eastwood not winning. Hilary Swank plays her character as a butch cross between her roles in BOYS DON'T CRY and THE NEXT KARATE KID. Physically, she certainly beefed up for the part and looks like a boxer, but I have never found that she has deviated much from performing on screen almost exactly the same in every film, just with a different accent. Morgan Freeman, a man who deserved an Oscar more than anyone, is simply playing the same Morgan Freeman character he always does, this time with a little less fun and bit more weight to the performance. Even the phenomenal Margo Martindale here is playing a wicked mama character that is just shy of wearing a tophat and twirling a mustache. Jay Baruchel is solid in his supporting role as well. But, while everyone praised Clint Eastwood's grizzled take on the grizzled mentor with a heart of ice who slowly warms to the new kid in his life, they overlooked that it is essentially a carbon copy of the role Eastwood has been playing his entire life.

Clint Eastwood is a formulaic director as much as he was a formulaic actor. When he was young, he dabbled in musicals (PAINT YOUR WAGON) and comedy (EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE) but stuck mainly to the action and westerns. Don't get me wrong, I love Dirty Harry and The Man With No Name, but eventually, even Eastwood couldn't reinvent the wheel. Well into his golden years, Eastwood has become ensconced in the Surly Old Man genre and MILLION DOLLAR BABY is no exception. Like BLOOD WORK, GRAN TORINO, SPACE COWBOYS, and ABSOLUTE POWER, Eastwood has taken that formula to a successful place but jamming MILLION DOLLAR BABY was just a poor filmmaking decision. Could the movie have worked better with a different lead actor? Possibly, but we will never know for sure.

My neck!  My back!  My neck and my back!

The movie's popularity hinged on the shocking twist midway through the film which is never the right way to make your film. Would the movie have gone on to the success it had if fans had known or anticipated this twist? While some movie twists warrant repeated viewings to try and see where the twist could have been anticipated or how it may alter future viewings of the film, MILLION DOLLAR BABY is not a movie that begs to be watched a second time. Why anyone would endure multiple viewings of such a film baffles me. In fact, if you were to watch it again, you could pick which type of film you want to see and just skip to that half of the film.

MILLION DOLLAR BABY remains a wasted film opportunity that could have been several better films but instead will be regarded as a footnote in Oscar history. In retrospect, I am sure many of those who lauded acclaim on Eastwood's drama may think differently about it with a decade between their initial viewing and now. MILLION DOLLAR BABY is neither a good sports movie or a good drama about adversity and injury. It could have been great if it was one or the other, but this film just serves as a mediocre reminder of what happens when you match the wrong project and director.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!

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Source: JoBlo.com

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2:10PM on 06/21/2014

You mad bro?

Million Dollar Baby was the best contender for the Oscar in 2005. I loved it. And I really like Clint both as a director and as an actor and he really showed with this film how good filmmaker he is.
Million Dollar Baby was the best contender for the Oscar in 2005. I loved it. And I really like Clint both as a director and as an actor and he really showed with this film how good filmmaker he is.
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+1
3:45AM on 06/19/2014
U wanted it to be a sports film? It didn't want to be cliched. I remember ppl describing shawshank as a prison film, but really ab characters with a prison background. I always thought this was similar. It's set in boxing, but it's about characters, and this incredible bond they share. It's not about the twist. mystic river was about the death penalty. This was about the bonds as well as the right to life issues. This film is a lot deeper for most ppl bc he hid it as a generic boxing
U wanted it to be a sports film? It didn't want to be cliched. I remember ppl describing shawshank as a prison film, but really ab characters with a prison background. I always thought this was similar. It's set in boxing, but it's about characters, and this incredible bond they share. It's not about the twist. mystic river was about the death penalty. This was about the bonds as well as the right to life issues. This film is a lot deeper for most ppl bc he hid it as a generic boxing movie, which I think is great. You didn't catch any of the insane symbolism of Jesus, god, and the Holy Ghost? I understand (it takes some critical thinking).

I don't know how much merit these articles deserve anyway as I think a lot are just for shock or about movies they didn't like as much or didn't hate as much
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+0
12:34AM on 06/19/2014
I always felt MDB was a tad overrated. Decent movie? Sure. Best Picture winner?? Ehhhh...
I always felt MDB was a tad overrated. Decent movie? Sure. Best Picture winner?? Ehhhh...
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1:54PM on 06/18/2014

I'll forgive your small mind this time

The dual storytelling is precisely why I liked this film. It could have been just another underdog triumphs over adversity story we've seen a gazillion times. That's what I was expecting when I saw it. And then the unthinkable happens and takes the film into an emotionally and morally complex direction that is, for me, one hundred times times greater than a RAH RAH sports movie. Instead of idealized sentimental bullshit we get a story of how real and unfair real life can be. Just because
The dual storytelling is precisely why I liked this film. It could have been just another underdog triumphs over adversity story we've seen a gazillion times. That's what I was expecting when I saw it. And then the unthinkable happens and takes the film into an emotionally and morally complex direction that is, for me, one hundred times times greater than a RAH RAH sports movie. Instead of idealized sentimental bullshit we get a story of how real and unfair real life can be. Just because it's depressing doesn't invalidate it's power. A great and brave film.
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+0
1:37PM on 06/18/2014

I disagree with this column about 75% of the time

But while I don't think that Million Dollar Baby is terrible by any means, I do agree that it is pretty generic Oscar bait stuff and not really outstanding in any sense. "A footnote in Oscar history" is the perfect way to describe it.
But while I don't think that Million Dollar Baby is terrible by any means, I do agree that it is pretty generic Oscar bait stuff and not really outstanding in any sense. "A footnote in Oscar history" is the perfect way to describe it.
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11:09AM on 06/18/2014

I'm fucking through with you.

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10:24AM on 06/18/2014
Your criticism that the film didn't know which story it wanted to tell is a case where you missed it. It was one story.
It wasn't the canned Rocky or Raging Bull boxing story and it isn't a sports movie. Million Dollar Baby is a drama with a boxing backdrop. Your expectations were set by previous films, so you were not open to this story on its own merits. It actually was a daring and bleak drama, about striving, about sacrifice for your dreams and how they sometimes don't come true, and
Your criticism that the film didn't know which story it wanted to tell is a case where you missed it. It was one story.
It wasn't the canned Rocky or Raging Bull boxing story and it isn't a sports movie. Million Dollar Baby is a drama with a boxing backdrop. Your expectations were set by previous films, so you were not open to this story on its own merits. It actually was a daring and bleak drama, about striving, about sacrifice for your dreams and how they sometimes don't come true, and how heartbreaking it can be. It was bleak and depressing, no happy ending so to speak. But it was still a masterpiece of film making and story telling. The acting, directing, cinematography, score, pacing everything was rendered realistically and emotionally.
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9:39AM on 06/18/2014
I think the film is one of Eastwood's best films, but personally it's not one of his films that I rewatch much; like I do with The Unforgiven and Gran Torino.

I can see why the depressive state of this film could turn most people off.
I think the film is one of Eastwood's best films, but personally it's not one of his films that I rewatch much; like I do with The Unforgiven and Gran Torino.

I can see why the depressive state of this film could turn most people off.
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9:21AM on 06/18/2014
this movie broke my heart.
i really think it teaches the harsh reality of the world we live in. you can work work work, but at the end of the day, forces beyond our control dictate our destiny.
this movie broke my heart.
i really think it teaches the harsh reality of the world we live in. you can work work work, but at the end of the day, forces beyond our control dictate our destiny.
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9:40AM on 06/18/2014
Best comment of the day goes to you, good sir.
Best comment of the day goes to you, good sir.
+10
9:16AM on 06/18/2014

"empowering sports drama"

If that's what you wanted - you suffered through your own poorly set expectations. The movie was sad, didn't follow the well-worn path of 90% of sports dramas, and stood as a harsh repudiation of the cliched, dishonest message of "if you give it your all, you'll make it to the top..." so you didn't like it.

That's an opinion, alright.
If that's what you wanted - you suffered through your own poorly set expectations. The movie was sad, didn't follow the well-worn path of 90% of sports dramas, and stood as a harsh repudiation of the cliched, dishonest message of "if you give it your all, you'll make it to the top..." so you didn't like it.

That's an opinion, alright.
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9:03AM on 06/18/2014
I liked it. Eastwood's never fully come back from that high-contrast aesthetic he used there, that I'm not particularly fond of, but it worked for Million Dollar Baby. I was particularly impressed with Eastwood's performance. The acting is uniform all around, but at the time this movie came out I hadn't considered Clint Eastwood an actor of particular depth. And I appreciated that this didn't go the same, tired route of other sports movies, instead focusing on the human relationships. This got
I liked it. Eastwood's never fully come back from that high-contrast aesthetic he used there, that I'm not particularly fond of, but it worked for Million Dollar Baby. I was particularly impressed with Eastwood's performance. The acting is uniform all around, but at the time this movie came out I hadn't considered Clint Eastwood an actor of particular depth. And I appreciated that this didn't go the same, tired route of other sports movies, instead focusing on the human relationships. This got a bad rap for not being the formula sports movie many expected. That's actually something I liked about it. I still prefer Mystic River when it comes to latter-day Eastwood directorial efforts.
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8:43AM on 06/18/2014
"The movie's popularity hinged on the shocking twist..."

Not to me, I was loving it before that even happened and then respected it all the more afterwards, but it's not like the twist is what "makes" the film.
"The movie's popularity hinged on the shocking twist..."

Not to me, I was loving it before that even happened and then respected it all the more afterwards, but it's not like the twist is what "makes" the film.
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8:53AM on 06/18/2014
Absolutely. The fact that I loved the characters before that made the outcome all the more tragic.
Absolutely. The fact that I loved the characters before that made the outcome all the more tragic.
7:38AM on 06/18/2014
It already IS a good movie. However, I personally don't like it that much because of that depressive ending.
It already IS a good movie. However, I personally don't like it that much because of that depressive ending.
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