Sunday, January 24, 2016

2004: Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby

In the most recent film to win both Best Actress and Best Picture, Swank plays a very determined but untrained boxer. Her persistence ultimately convinces a manager to train her, despite his insistence that he doesn't train girls.

This movie is kind of similar to Swank's other Oscar-winning performance in that it's really good but also excruciatingly painful. I don't really have any desire to watch either of them again any time soon. Still, another thing they have in common is that Swank is very impressive in both of them. I think I was more impressed with Boys Don't Cry, partly because we get to see more of her in that movie, while this focused a lot on Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. We mostly see her through their eyes, so I don't feel like we get to know Maggie as well as we got to know Brandon.

That being said, she is thoroughly convincing in this role. Though the story is not told from her perspective, she still clearly conveys her feelings and motivations for everything she does, making her character completely believable. Her determination and eagerness is readily apparent in every look she gives and the way she says every line. Her demeanor as she interacts with her family, when we finally meet them, gives us more than enough information to fill in her back story. Her boxing skills, and the way they improve throughout the training portion of the film, are very convincing. And then there's her chemistry with Clint Eastwood. Her persistence is so charming and real that we have no doubt that he'll eventually end up training her, and when he does they work so well together that we have no trouble believing that they're actually an athlete and her manager. She develops a different sort of relationship with Morgan Freeman's character, which is no less realistic. It's the way these three actors play off each other, rather than one single performance, that makes this movie work so well. No wonder they all won Oscars (well, Eastwood's were for directing and co-producing, but he was still nominated for acting). What a well-put-together movie.

So far I've tried to keep this blog relatively spoiler-free, but I have to talk about my favorite part of Swank's performance, and it comes toward the end. I'll try not to spoil everything, but if you haven't seen this movie you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph. Anyway, my favorite aspect of her performance is also one of my least favorite parts of the movie: when her family comes to visit her in the hospital at the end, trying to get her to sign all her assets over to them. Her family members are really awful losers, which she's always known, but somehow she's never lost faith in them completely...until that moment. In one instant we can clearly see all the hope she had left draining from her eyes as she spits the pen out of her mouth and orders them to leave. Before that, it looks like she's going to fight to live, but after that this is replaced by a determination to die with some semblance of dignity. I simultaneously love and hate this because it's awful and tragic and completely believable because it's so consistent with her character, and she plays it perfectly. The rest of the performance is very good, but I feel like it's that moment that ties it all together and turns it into a great performance.

This is Hilary Swank's most recent Oscar nomination. She has won both Oscars for which she was nominated, and if you ask me, both were incredibly well-deserved.

I only have 10 left before I'm caught up! Assuming I catch up before February 28, that is. Anyway, next I'm going to talk about Reese Witherspoon

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