"An old master's new masterpiece" is the phrase thrown around after every single Eastwood release. It is the only way we can sum up Eastwood's phenomenal career. 74 and still always in the news. He never glorifies his characters, he never has a stifling "trailer-made" plot, he emotionally overwhelms, he leaves out the obvious and the clichéd, and, most of all, he always delivers near-flawless movies. This one probably was the best bet for Hollywood last year. And it turned out to be a million-dollar baby for the studio that produced it.
The story sees Eastwood run a beat-down gym, with friend and former student Freeman. The gym isn't doing too well, and their best fighter has just walked out on them.
Swank is the young woman with more heart than experience. Although he only agrees to train her in the start, he goes on to devote his entire life to her. It is not just a story of an underdog winning championships, it's a story of achievements, hope, redemption, and a dozen other clichés that Hollywood regularly throws around.
Million Dollar Baby is dark, edgy and underplayed. The characters seem to be constantly battling with themselves over right and wrong, past and present, good and evil. The changes in the general mood of the movie are nudged by cinematographer Tom Stern's subtle shadow play. Then actors are frequently in the shadow, shifting in and out of light.
The background score, like in every other Eastwood movie, is poignant, and always better with the visuals. More interesting than the actual boxing scenes (perfected in Raging Bull) is the verbal sparring between Eastwood and Freeman. There cannot be two actors with more difference in the kind of screen presence that they possess.
Like all previous Eastwood movie actors Swank speaks more through her eyes than her lines. She might be unwittingly slotting herself in such characters, but as long as she picks movies like this, we'll watch her again and again.
Eastwood's own screen presence is so amazing that every time he opens his lips to something, you lean forward hoping to memorize the lines for eternity. Unfortunately, Eastwood's whisper-loud dialogue delivery does more harm than good to the movie, as some lines are clearly inaudible.
Morgan Freeman's performance is a lot like Red from Shawshank Redemption. The movie for which he should've won an Oscar. In comparison, this one doesn't seem as worthy.
The class of the movie hits you with quality jabs and amazing one-two punches that can only be delivered by an old veteran with as much passion for the craft as Eastwood has.