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PCR # 253  (Vol. 6, No. 4)  This edition is for the week of January 24--30, 2005.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"Million Dollar Baby"

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith
Four stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

theater seats

"Million Dollar Baby"
 by Mike Smith
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 by Matt Drinnenberg
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Starring: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okenedo, Nick Nolte and Joaquin Phoenix
Directed by: Terry George
Rated: PG 13
Running Time: 2 hours 1 min

"Make my day!" "Do you feel lucky?" "A man's gotta know his limitations." "Right turn, Clyde!" Uttered by Clint Eastwood, these lines are not only famous, they often made up the entire amount of dialogue Eastwood had in a film. While filling in as an Academy Award presenter in the early 70's, Eastwood joked that they pulled the one guy out of the audience who hadn't said more then 12 words in any picture. Slowly Eastwood grew as an actor. And, following his directing debut, "Play Misty for Me," he began to grow as a filmmaker. Today, at age 74, he is doing the best work of his life, both in front of and behind the camera.

"Million Dollar Baby" tells the story of Frankie Dunn (Eastwood), a former boxing cut man who now runs a local gym. Frank spends his afternoons training and mentoring his athletes. His mornings he spends in church, offering up silent prayers and constantly antagonizing the local priest so often that he's asked not to return. Each night he writes a letter to his estranged daughter, the reason he attends church daily. Frank is obviously a man in pain, with the gym and his fighters helping to ease it at times, but not completely erase it. Living in the gym is Eddie Dupris (Freeman), a one time boxer who had one fight too many. After losing the use of one of his eyes in a fight, Dupris has now taken to helping Frank, keeping his good eye out around the gym. One night after a local bout, Frank is approached by Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) a waitress with a dream of being a boxer. When Frank tells her he doesn't train girls, Maggie tells him she's tough. "Girlie tough isn't enough" Frank replies. But Maggie proves that "girlie tough" is more then enough.

A little over a decade ago, Eastwood delivered what many considered would be his masterpiece, the Oscar winning western, "Unforgiven." Then last year he gave us "Mystic River." And now, with "Million Dollar Baby," he just keeps on getting better. Having studied under such directors as Don Siegel and Sergio Leone, Eastwood took the best from his mentors and added his own style of story telling. His camera flows easily and you almost feel a part of the action as you watch the lives on screen unfold. That the film takes an unimaginable turn, one you never anticipate, is a credit to the director. As for the performances, all three stars have received much deserved Academy Award nominations. Swank, who won the Best Actress Oscar a few years ago for "Boys Don't Cry," totally immerses herself in Maggie. A waitress by day, saving her tips so she can pursue boxing, she has an inner toughness that is often hidden by her exuberance at being in the ring. In the ring, she has the body and grace that tells me she could whip Laila Ali anytime! Freeman adds another brilliant character to his list of credits. As the narrator, Freeman reminds us of his work as Red in "The Shawshank Redemption." Like Red, Eddie has a quiet dignity. But this film belongs to Eastwood. Still in fighting shape, Eastwood commands every scene he is in. His joy in Maggie is countered by the anguish he hides inside. His prayers are heartbreakingly sincere and as each day passes you can feel his pain when they haven't been answered. This is, hands down, Eastwood's greatest performance on screen. And did I mention that Clint also wrote the music for the film? Sounds to me like this man doesn't have any limitations!

Like a boxer, "Million Dollar Baby" grabs you, throws you into the corner and won't let you go. On a scale of zero to four stars, I give "Million Dollar Baby"  Four stars

This week's movie review of "Million Dollar Baby" is ©2005 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2005, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.