And here we have the "The Karate Kid" of boxing, a serious take on the inspirational type of story that follows the underdog contender from zero to hero, only this time with Hilary Swank as the Kid, and Clint Eastwood as a tortured Mr Miyagi. Oh, and not forgetting a whole bunch of Academy Awards.
Clint Eastwood's a crotchety old trainer whose protege deserts him just before he makes it big. And if that's not bad enough, he has issues with his daughter. And God. Clint is a man very much more sinned against than sinning, it seems. But not to worry, Morgan Freeman, freshly paroled from the set of the "Shawshank Redemption", sets him up, via cunning use of guilt, with Hilary Swank - who wants to be a boxing champion. As fate would have it, the young lady has issues relating to her father's death. What a fit!
Clint really, really doesn't want to train Maggie; but Maggie really, really wants to be a fighter and, as soon as she slips under his guard, the race for the world championship is on!
Maggie - my darling, Clint calls her eventually - is a natural, you see. Most of her opponents don't last through the first round, and soon she is, indeed, the "Million Dollar Baby". Until she finds the world title defender to be a lot nastier, crueller and more vicious than she and Clint bargained for.
It's always an odd experience, when you're watching a film that's been hailed by critics and audiences - and awards shows - as a masterpiece, to have it slowly dawn upon you - to your alarm- that what you're seeing is an imperial old codger taking off his clothes, item by item, neatly folding them up and putting them beside him, and then standing up in front a seemingly awestruck crowd. Butt-naked. But solemn and austere as can be. The crowd goes wild, and you're sitting there thinking: oh lordy, that's one nude dude.
It isn't the acting that's off. Eastwood and Swank are fine actors, and Swank's often got my vote in a best Actress showdown (not this year though, thanks to Kate Winslet - but so much for that idea). Morgan Freeman is also a good actor, but here - Oscar wins notwithstanding - he's just trotting out the wise but damaged mentor role - again! Eastwood's direction isn't off, either. But the writing is pretty much by the numbers. I wouldn't go so far as to say the characters are cardboard cut-outs, though Maggie's trailer trash family are disappointingly one-dimensional, even for stereotypes, but there's little real depth to be seen in the main characters.
"Karate Kid", now there was a film... How Ralph Maccio was never even nominated for an Oscar is beyond me. Never mind, Hilary Swank would probably have kicked Ralph's ass, even with the one-legged praying-mantisy hop-on-a-pole move Mr Miyagi showed him.
Wax on, Mr Eastwood.
- By Matthew du Plessis
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