Saturday, 14 July 2012

WARNING: Spoilers may follow!

"Maggie walked through that door with nothing but guts. No chance in the world of being what she needed to be. It was because of you that she was fighting the championship of the world. You did that. People die everyday, Frankie - mopping floors, washing dishes and you know what their last thought is? I never got my shot. Because of you Maggie got her shot. If she dies today, you know what her last thought would be? I think I did all right."

What is it about boxing that makes good films? It's not a sport that I'd ever actually watch, but ask me to name some good sports movies and among the first to come to mind would be Rocky, Raging Bull, and The Fighter. And that's more than I could name for tennis (oh, Wimbledon).

Anyway, I've just watched Million Dollar Baby and can happily add it to that list. It's a remarkable story that takes some of the conventions of the sports movie genre, as Clint Eastwood's cynical old coach reluctantly takes on Hilary Swank's underdog, and plays with them in a realist, believable and touching manner.

Just as listeners of Mark Kermode's Five Live show know that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy isn't about spying (debatable), Million Dollar Baby isn't about boxing (true). It's a deep and gritty character study about a man making up for his failure as a father forging a relationship with a girl determined to raise herself out of her constricted upbringing. In fact, after a shocking twist, the last 45 minutes or so don't involve a single boxing match, and are all the better for it. The unfolding drama, as Eastwood's Frankie faces up to his mistakes of past and present and has to make some damn tough decisions, is compellingly gruelling. You know what I mean; hard to watch because it so excellently pulls on the heartstrings without resorting to sentiment or being at all forgiving. A superb script performed by actors at the top of their game.

It had taken me too long to find the opportunity to watch 2004's Best Picture Oscar winner and the film surpassed my expectations, which were high anyway, with a very brave and surprising take on the genre.

Also, it's narrated by Morgan Freeman.


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