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Million Dollar Sap

by Anthony Kaufman
February 27, 2005 7:58 AM
11 Comments
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By the time you read this, "Million Dollar Baby" will probably have won a handful of Academy Awards -- and all I can say is, it's totally ludicrous. But this time around, it's not just Academy voters who have been wooed by Hollywood schtick and sentimentality, but the critics, too.

I didn't see Clint Eastwood's racist, classist, sexist melodrama until after many of the year's top ten lists tauted its achievements. About the time I finally caught the movie, controversy was erupting about the film's pro-euthanasia stance. But there was so much more to offend in "Million Dollar Baby" that I couldn't even get to the right-to-die stuff.

Why most of the nation's critics didn't get stuck on the depiction of yet another poor blackman (Morgan Freeman's character) serving his white master is beyond me? And why has everyone ignored the fact that Maggie, a young woman who wants to enter a man's world, of course, doesn't get very far? Or how the poor come across as money-grubbing, insensitive, and stupid?

Even left-wing columnist Frank Rich praised the film and its characters with nary a word about the movie's blatant attack on America's welfare system. Playing straight into the prejudices of the give-to-the-rich reigning majority, the lower-classes are either stubborn and punishable by death for trying to transcend their place (Maggie), spastic and weak (Danger), or cruel, slimy and greedy (Maggie's family). Slate's David Edelstein was one of the only critics to rightly point out, "Her trailer-trash family is cartoonishly venal: They don't even pretend to offer sympathy. (Couldn't just one of her relatives have been genuinely distraught?)."

That Clint's character escapes any of said stereotypes seems to be just another standard Hollywood ploy: white guy learns a lesson and we all leave the theater feeling the better for it. While I give kudos to the film's abrupt, anti-Hollywood turn, and I can see why some critics adored the movie's classic storytelling technique and moody cinematography, they might also have noted the film's age-old biases.

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11 Comments

  • Reid Rosefelt | May 9, 2005 6:50 AMReply

    Anthony,

    I don't agree with you on this one. I find Dennis Cozzalio's comments to be similar to my own, but presented in a more lucid way than I can.

    Re: Hilary Swank's family. I agree, it's a profound flaw in the film, the main reason the film isn't the masterpiece it should be.

    As everyone knows, Clint Eastwood famously doesn't waste much time on his sets. A few takes and it's on to the next setup. This works great for Sean Penn Morgan Freeman, Hilary Swank and others less well known, but not everyone is up to it. Like day players. Those characters were terribly written, but a different director would have taken the time to add complexity and nuance to their portrayals. Eastwood is like Lumet, who sees moviemaking as a race--the fastest one to the finish line wins. But the audience doesn't care about how many takes, they just want it to be good. One of Eastwood's major influences is Don Siegel, and you can see the same things in his films. Good acting and then sometimes bad TV acting.

    That said, when I recently made a short film, I made all my actors see this film. Eastwood and Freeman's work represent the absolute ultimate in screen acting. Freeman earned his Oscar. If you somehow missed this towering achievement and only see him as some kind of uncle tom...I'm speechless.

    Watch it again, please. Use every bit of concentration you have to focus on their faces. This is where the greatness of the film lies, as well as in the zen-like simplicity of Eastwood's direction. I could go on for days talking about this film. And have.

    It's value is emphatically not in the melodrama.

    ps I liked Swank too, but for totally different reasons.

  • P. K. Dennis | March 3, 2005 11:40 AMReply

    M$B is a movie. Pure and simple. Beautifully shot, acted, written. Yes, you can find fault with certain attitudes: I found a LOT of fault with the posted criticisms here. But the core issue is just glossed over by these "critics." Does one have the right to decide one's own death and under what circumstances? Our skittish J-C heritage, especially the C part of it, deals very badly with this issue. Why do we give beloved animals a painless death but not our beloved humans? Why is it all right to countermand God's will by keeping people alive artificially but not to grant them death under the circumstances that faced both Frankie and Maggie? Certain eastern religions, some sects of Buddhism, for instance, recognize the right of a human being to call it quits, but under controlled spiritual circumstances: you take care of your earthly business first to leave less grief for your survivors. Maggie wasn't Christopher Reeves, for instance; she didn't have the help and support that Reeves did, and it was hard enough for him. The whole subject needs real examining: I say this as both artist (writer) and minister, and I say it knowing that I too, still have qualms about it. Time for a real conversation in America--and those who profit from prolonged death (nearly have of medicare, for instance). Hunter Thompson didn't hesitate to take himself out; I have often suspected that that is the real reason behind the NRA's opposition to gun control. It's not a matter of defending your family from the barbarians; it's a matter of having the final choise that anyone is entitled to, for any reason: to exit on your own terms. The well-to-do, like Jackie O, could do it; the rest of us, no. There is the potential of terrible consquences, no matter what (you) would decide, as Frankie finds out, and Scrap comments so well upon. If M$B opens that dialogue, that could be a very desirable outcome. And all that for one little film! My, my.

  • msic | March 2, 2005 12:25 AMReply

    Good job, AK. Also, it's worth noting that Clint has defended himself against anti-euthanasia right-wingers in interviews by noting, hey, there's an attack on welfare cheats! Great. More red meat for Scarborough Country.

  • steve | March 1, 2005 1:59 AMReply

    Sitting there, watching the Oscars, I felt depressed and powerless. What can be done to stop the elite club from grabbing everything, throwing their money all over town, schmoozing and ass kissing until they get their nominations, than their awards? So few deserved, especially M$B!

    How does Scorsese feel, he has made the greatest boxing picture in cinema history and loses to a smug Eastwood who should be ashamed of himself with a so-so movie on an overplayed angle. They took Girlfight and added $80 million to the budget! Aviator, for all it's faults, deserves this award. Poor Scorsese - he should have Academy Members taken out.

    Show me a bad Vinny Gallo movie any day of the week before this crap.

  • udy | February 28, 2005 10:17 AMReply

    no justice here; on the merit- Aviator is a better film (maybe not Scorsese's best film, but a darn good one).

    Aviator's main character is an anti social dude who get's crazier as the film draws to its end; viewers are not sorry for him- they just watch him being taken away...

    Ray is an extremely complex visually rich film- but it does not build to a satisfying - gratifying "simple" ending.

    sideways- wrong demographic baby (plus no one is dead and no tears are shed at the end).

    while the overly simplistic melodrama of M$B allows the older skewed Academy voting crowd to fall for the lemon pie as the meaning of end of life (metaphor). If sideways helped increase wine sales (as the NY Times reports), for sure - after dinner lemon pie sales in restaurants around Beverly Hills have increased by two fold. I think I cross over BH city limit and go for one myself to sweeten the bitter taste Oscars have left.

  • Yer Dull | February 28, 2005 9:45 AMReply

    geez. yawn.

  • Miranda | February 28, 2005 7:43 AMReply

    I would add that perhaps the biggest travesty here is that the film wasn't even that great. I despise the sort of mushy maudlin sentimentality that Eastwood seems drawn to in his choice of material. But Hollywood seems to love it, and Mr. Eastwood's arrogant demeanor showed he felt he deserved the awards. Of course, the Oscars aren't really about awarding merit anyway; but please. (And PS: Mr. Eastwood should be banned from composing a score to anything ever again.)

  • jennifer | February 28, 2005 6:35 AMReply

    i completely agree with your take, anthony - thank you for writing - you're not alone!

  • Jan Lisa Huttner | February 28, 2005 5:46 AMReply

    Anthony, I completely agree & I can't tell you how sad this makes me, especially in a year in which a fine, compassionate film like KINSEY was totally overlooked, almost as if the Hollywood folks think that by sucking up to the Right, they'll escape attack for the next 4 years. Dream on! For the record, I saw M$B before the buzz, but the "big twist" was completely obvious to me. As soon as Maggie told Frankie her mushy story about how her Daddy killed his dog, I knew exactly what the "last act" would be.

  • Brian F. | February 28, 2005 5:29 AMReply

    Clint Eastwood's a Republican. It doesn't surprise me at all that this stuff ends up in his film.

  • Wyo | February 28, 2005 4:17 AMReply

    If a racist tree falls in the woods and only Anthony hears it, is it still racist?

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