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There were, in our view, two great American movies in 2004. One was “Sideways,” which we’ve written about several times here on MNB. The other, which we saw last weekend, was Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby.”

Nominally a boxing film in which Eastwood’s grizzled and aging boxing trainer reluctantly works with Hillary Swank to turn her into a legitimate competitor on the women’s boxing circuit, “Million Dollar Baby” actually is a meditation on love and commitment, on dedication and sacrifice. The movie starts out seeming a little like “Rocky,” and then seamlessly shifts into another, much more profound gear. It speaks to Eastwood’s power as a director, which seems to grow with every film he makes. This isn’t a showy film – it has a straight narrative line, fascinating characters, and has a kind of punctuational cinematography that manages not to draw attention to itself.

The acting is extraordinary. The 75-year-old Eastwood continues to find new shadings and reserves in an acting career that dates back to 1955. Swank is a revelation, giving a performance that never seems like a stereotype. And the always wonderful Morgan Freeman rounds out the cast, giving what could have been a stock character (ex-fighter turned janitor in a boxer’s gym) amazing depth of feeling.

Even the music is captivating – not least because the score was composed by Clint Eastwood.

If you think back to his “Dirty Harry” days, it is hard to imagine that anyone then would gave guessed that Eastwood would have turned into a renaissance man of American filmmaking. But he has, and done it in a way that has allowed him to consistently reinvent himself while being true to his audience and the themes that have flowed through his career.

Go see “Million Dollar Baby.” It is a major work in a major career.
KC's View: