There's a mysterious, cumulative power to Million Dollar Baby. You can, and some have, pick at its seams, point to the hoariness of its component parts: the plucky underdog story, the standard-size characters, the no-stretch-there casting (Morgan Freeman as sage old pro Scrap, Clint Eastwood as curmudgeonly boxing coach Frank). And, if you haven't seen the film or had its narrative switch revealed before catching it on DVD, there's an ""Of course!"" moment when the story sharp-turns and it becomes obvious just why Hilary Swank won her second li'l golden man.
So, if it makes you feel good, sneer away. Tear it apart. Wonder what all the fuss was about. Then sit down and have a good long cry. Because Eastwood's 25th feature as director beats the crap out of your cynicism. True, stuck on the sofa instead of a cinema seat, it's a less immersive experience; harder to lose yourself in its shadowy, sepia tone depths. But it's still a thing of beauty. You walk into Frank's Hit Pit and want to simply hang out. It's easy, it's unforced: the atmosphere Eastwood creates. He takes his time, he lures you in and he, yes (apologies for this), knocks you out. But he never showboats, never batters your emotions with false crescendo or weep-now theatrics. The score - - so is crucial to keeping sentiment at bay - - is lilting, understated and composed by Clint himself. There's a lot of idle idol worship of the erstwhile Man With No Name (anyone who made Blood Work deserves the odd kicking), but he earns every piece of praise here.
What was overlooked, perhaps, in the one-two Oscar combo of Director and Picture is how much the movie owes to his performance. Frank is a sorrowful man full of regret and there's an air of unspoken apology to Eastwood, whose personal failings have been publicly raked over in biographies. This is the work of an old man reconciling himself to life as death draws near. Rarely, on screen, has Clint been this vulnerable. Never has he been this authentic.