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Knock out punch

PREVIEW The much-feted `Million Dollar Baby' opens today



Frank Dunn (Clint Eastwood) trains Maggie (Hilary Swank) in `Million Dollar Baby.'

Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" is the third of the best picture nominees to come to town after Martin Scorsese's brilliant but flawed "Aviator" and the deliciously dreamy "Finding Neverland."

We all know that Hilary Swank got the Oscar for actress in leading role (her second after "Boys Don't Cry") and Morgan Freeman won the Oscar for actor in a supporting role. Eastwood took home the Oscar for direction and best film (a second after "Unforgiven"(`92).

The film was in the eye of the storm for its stance on euthanasia and differently abled people. Eastwood, who turns 75 this year, has moved far, far away from his Man with no Name image of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns of the Sixties and the Dirty Harry "go ahead make my day, punk" image of the seventies. "Million Dollar Baby" is his 25th outing as director and he makes a small intimate movie following the lives of three people - Frank Dunn (Eastwood) a down and out boxing manager, Scrap (Morgan Freeman) an injured prize fighter and a spunky young woman Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank).

Dunn loses his daughter and has since not let anyone close to him. Scared of losing boxers to injury like Scrap, Dunn lets many fighters go till Maggie walks into the gym and insists he train her.

Though initially resisting the idea because of her gender and age - she is 30; Dunn is moved by Maggie's tenacity and focus.

Based on stories from long-time fight manager Jerry Boyd's "Rope Burns: Stories for the Corner," the screen avatar of "Million Dollar Baby" had a chequered history. Angelica Houston brought the book to producer Albert Ruddy's attention, however by the time Ruddy bought the rights, Houston was involved with another project.

Ruddy does have a tenuous connection with the project as Eastwood modelled his character's voice on Ruddy's! Sandra Bullock was originally supposed to do Maggie's role and she wanted our very own Shekar Kapur to direct. By the time things fell in place, Bullock was committed to "Miss Congeniality 2." Morgan Freeman was originally supposed to do Dunn's role but decided on doing Scrap.

A boxing movie calls for incredible training and Swank gained nearly 20 pounds of muscle for her role. Trained by boxing and kickboxing champion Lucia Rijker, who does the role of Blue Bear in the film, Swank suffered a serious bacterial infection from a blister on her foot. While the film sets its story in the world of boxing, it cannot be called a boxing film anymore than Scorsese's "Raging Bull" can be called one. And talking about boxing films, guess the name of the café that Swank's character works in - On the Waterfront Café!

Fans of Eastwood's no-frills-attached contemplative style should not miss "Million Dollar Baby" and the movie would also be a perfect introduction to a no-nonsense, plain old-fashioned style of story telling.

MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER

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