Orson Welles reportedly said that The Outlaw Josey Wales would have been recognised as a great film "if the director's name wasn't Eastwood". It's hard to believe that nearly thirty years and a few dozen great films later, there are still commentators would roll their eyes at the idea that Clint Eastwood is a filmmaker to be taken seriously. Fortunately, this group obviously doesn't include his peers; The Director's Guild gave him a well-deserved recognition as Best Director for Million Dollar Baby a few days ago. If you haven't seen Eastwood's latest film yet, do so immediately. But prepare to be left shaken by a film that makes even the bleak atmosphere of Mystic River seem like a day at the beach.
Eastwood is one of the last masters of a classical mise-en-scene, a director who doesn't put a single thing into a shot unless he means it. His films are lean and exact, and while he's not above reaching for a shpwy effect, he's not likely to draw attention to it; no flashy 360-degree turns or MTV editing here. He's also good at getting his actors to underplay, finding meaning in their pauses and silent moments rather than reaching for emotional crescendos: Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman and Eastwood himself have rarely been as good as they are in Million Dollar Baby.
And that's all that I really need to say about it. I'm not much of a fan of the current need to shout about "spoilers", but I'll reverse my position and simply state that Million Dollar Baby is a devestating, heartbreakingly poignant story about human beings pushed to emotional and ethical limits. If you haven't seen it, do so - but be prepared.
Then read Amy Taubin's interview with the director over at the "Film Comment" site.