Friday, October 1, 2010

Million Dollar Eastwood

          I remember picking up the movie at the library, noticing the little Oscar statue on the front, reading the names Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Hillary Swank, with various “Best” awards under each and for this movie.  It was too good not to take home.  I watched it that night.


          I’ve seen a lot of boxing movies, but none hit me like Million Dollar Baby.  Who could have asked for more of a knockout?  Eastwood as the hard cussing coach delivering an emotional performance that could melt the gold statue he got for the no bullshit directing; Morgan Freeman, the best supporting man of all time justly getting the supporting Oscar as the glass-eyed ex-fighter who takes out the plot’s asshole with blood pumping deft; and Swank, as tenacious and beautiful as the character she portrays more than earns her title, making “Best” the understatement of the 77th Academy Awards.[1]

          [Warning: Spoiler Alert™:  (A bogus link to illustrate my shared belief.)]

          I couldn’t help but sit on the edge of my seat during the main character’s race to the top, strike knockout after knockout, and then watch the epic fall, and love revealed.  But I was caught at the very end, understanding how someone could want a friend to help them die then and there (Eastwood’s character in effect, kills Swank’s, now paraplegic), knowing in my mind all the reasons it was wrong.  Some people just don’t see how life’s worth living after they’ve “been up there.”

          It remains a great film to me despite my opposition to euthanasia because it outlines the extreme situation which would still not justify it to people who adhere to the reason of natural law and faith.  That and it’s just damn good movie making.

Gran Turino, 2008
          And then it dawned on me, sitting there that night, how close the ending was to the more recent Eastwood flic, Gran Torino; a tad less controversial ending to a no bullshit story that crosses the race line.  Eastwood seems to put on his Dirty Harry role once more as the crusty neighborhood vigilante, only to fake a showdown, get himself killed, and thereby lock the bad guys in jail for “a long time.”  Not exactly euthanasia; something that leaves watchers half-wanting to applaud.

          Was this 2008 film something of an apology for the 2004 Baby?  I couldn’t be sure.

          The concept, films apologizing for other films, reminded me of the beloved Dirty Harry movie (the 1971 original, rated 184 on Empire’s 500 Greatest Films[2]) followed by the stinker, Magnum Force two years later.  Instead of the laughs and thrills got from an un-apologetic “Feelin’ lucky punk?” Harry Callahan, the immediate sequel sucks, pitting Harry against a group of young cops with happy trigger fingers as if to say, “At least Harry’s not this dirty.”  Someone must have swallowed it; they made three other sequels (whose profound profits were only comparable to their general lack of art).[3]

          A look through the Eastwood filmography reveals the spaghetti westerns that made him famous, of which The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly could be the most well-known.  Interesting again that Clint’s first directorial Oscar film, the strong Unforgiven is a well told western giving an ex-crook (played by Eastwood) every just reason it can to gun down twice as many men in half the time it took in the overlong Ugly classic.

Good, Bad, or Ugly?  Eastwood in the cowboy classic.
          Even Eastwood’s depiction of a Catholic priest in ‘08’s Torino seems a comparatively polite apology to ‘04’s Baby rendition, a far cry from The Enforcer, the ’76 Dirty Harry #3 (where the priest actually harbors terrorists).

          No one can say it’s more than interesting pattern, unless the former major of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California[4] comes out and spills the beans.  One can only guess he had a PR-smart agent or advisor who helped him hold popularity and keep raking in the bucks.

Best Director, 77th Academy Awards
          In any case, an artist like Eastwood, uncharacteristically apologetic or not, deserves the respect he earned. Between smash hits like Mystic River and mediocre Flags of Our Fathers, the tough cowboy-cop is well worth the risk.[5]  I’m looking forward to his Matt Damon psych-thriller Hereafter due to close out 2010.[6]  If anything we hope it’s another Eastwood movie experience that will “Go ahead,” and, “make my day.”

Dirty Harry Callahan


  1. I was always a big fan of Clint Eastwood. I haven't seen one of his films in 20 years (for reasons you understand), but now that I can choose my own films again, I hope to catch up on some of his later work - perhaps starting with Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby.
    Although to be honest, due to developments in my own life over the past two years, nowadays I mostly want to watch more or less upbeat movies with happy endings...

  2. As far as modern Eastwood films go, GT and Baby are very good, along with Mystic River; however GT is the most upbeat of that serious crowd. Clint knows how to wisecrack, but apparently is not big on straight up comedy. (GT has some very funny racial situations; that incidentally it seems he apologizes for with Invictus, to add to my thesis.) Watching a good comedy/upbeat drama is very cathartic, and I am with you regarding the circumstances. Most comedies are outrageously gross these days, but the most funny I have seen is Office Space, nothwithstanding off color humor. One Flew Over A Cukoo's Nest with Jack Nicholson is a classic and very entertaining. The new Star Trek is very slick and "upbeat." JJ Abrams (the director) is more of a Star Wars fan and cuts to the chase to make it a lot of fun. I am working on getting my list of paragraph sized reviews for every movie I have seen, together with a 1-5 rating up on the web. That way I can more easily recommend what I think is good to friends. Oh and Good Will Hunting - great: tough issues but incredibly cathartic. Enjoy & keep doing a great job in your more-than-a-job.