Dollar Baby (2004)
Perhaps the movie's greatest virtues are the performances of its actors. Swank, Eastwood, and Freeman are all captivating to watch, and all give such life to their characters that the viewer is readily immersed in their various hopes and troubles. Swank, in particular, by letting the viewer experience the harsh realities of Maggie's existence, as well as her dreams of success, has crafted one of the most touching characters I have encountered for some time. Eastwood too, however, acquits himself extremely well. He permits the moviegoer to catch glimpses of Frankie's tragic past, without ever crudely exposing the horrors which cast their shadows upon that man, and so lends him a distinct aura of sadness. These feelings, fortunately, are given greater clarity by the director's use of Eddie as a supporting character. Although he never has the depth of the other two protagonists, he is so nicely realized by Freeman that his presence consistently complements theirs and so adds to the movie's emotivity.
What is more, thanks to the director's skill, even the film's shortcomings help to make the story it tells engaging. Maggie's ignorant, trashy family, for example, are presented as such grotesques that, while they are no more than caricatures, they are able to repulse the viewer and make him sympathize with the heroine, whom they consistently misuse. Her efforts to overcome her origins and the difficult circumstances of her life are also overdone, being terribly predictable and hackneyed, but they are still so involving that the viewer is almost certain to find himself cheering for this apparently foolish underdog as she continuously succeeds despite the overwhelming challenges she faces.
The film's pedestrian visual qualities, which reveal to the moviegoer a dark, dirty, soiled, and very ordinary world filled with hardship and pain, are likewise oddly effective. Instead of giving the movie a sense of grandeur, Eastwood has lent it a simplicity, a mundane dreariness that reminds the viewer of the characters' own simplicity and of the heroism, decency, and magic that can be discovered in the hearts of all human beings.
While Million Dollar Baby may contain more than its share of clichés and may never rise to greatness, it is a surprisingly touching and tender movie that is sure to affect many viewers.
Review by Keith Allen
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