6.22.2016

From the archives: "A new darkness"


When I was an undergrad at SUNY Geneseo in the early 2000s, I enjoyed a brief stint as the resident film critic for the campus radio station’s short-lived news-and-arts show, something called The Weekly Review, which was spearheaded by the then-boyfriend of one my best friends.  The show aired live on Sunday mornings and was trying to be something like NPR’s Weekend Edition, though we usually had no more than three contributors and barely enough material to fill an hour's worth of airtime.  It premiered in the late fall of 2004 and ended the following spring when the boyfriend/show-runner graduated.  Nevertheless, it gave me the opportunity to write about a handful of new films as I saw them, and I was grateful for the experience.  In one of my last pieces, aired in the winter of 2005, I wrote favorably about Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, which struck me as a film of “world-weary grace”:  

 

Contenders: Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby.  They both went on to win Oscars for the film in February 2005. 


Million Dollar Baby soon proves itself to be something much bigger than a simple rags-to-riches story; a wholly unexpected twist at the end of the second act sends the film, and the audience, spinning into dangerous uncharted waters.  Only as the film nears its emotionally devastating conclusion does the careful precision of its structure become apparent.  The film’s first ninety minutes feel more or less predictable, until the plot, with a few sharp turns, sheds on them a new light.  Or, more appropriately, a new darkness.  Million Dollar Baby ends more powerfully than anticipated; the film’s trailers have marketed it as Rocky meets Cinderella, but in fact it transcends the conventions of a genre film and ends by creeping into the shadowy corners of the soul.
“[…] For all of Eastwood’s status as an icon of masculine toughness, the films of his late period are deeply felt and richly dark, and filled with men’s failures, particularly those involving daughters who are either estranged or dead.  Lost daughters keep cropping up in Eastwood’s films—they’re found in Mystic River, Absolute Power, and here in Million Dollar Baby, where it’s played for optimum emotional power.  Million Dollar Baby, while slightly imperfect, shows the subtlety and simple elegance of a filmmaker working at the top of his form; Eastwood has entered the prime of his career, and, like so many great directors before him—Buñuel, Bergman, Kurosawa—has shown that, at his most relaxed, the artist can achieve his peak of greatness.”

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