Today's Ticket Stub will feature some unapologetic spoilers, so if you'd like to see Million Dollar Baby without an inkling, you should skip ahead. This turned out to be a dark and strange choice for Ladies Movie Night, despite the spunky Hilary Swank and her inspirational abs. Just kidding, she more than holds her own with Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman in the acting chops department -- this is some of the finest work I can remember for a long time: each of them creates a moving, authentic character out of minimal, somewhat cliched material. Each takes the cliche (one-eyed washed-up has-been, prickly Catholic codger, spunky white trash girl with a heart of gold) and pushes it to a level of intensity and resonance that is the only thing saving the movie from its own outrageous melodrama. The reason you haven't heard a peep about the dark twist halfway through this movie is that nobody would go see it -- a "boxing movie with a girl" is one thing, but a "boxing movie with a girl who gets paralyzed in the ring and then spends the remainder of the movie wasting away before stoically asking her beloved coach to euthanize her" is another. Oh, and did I mention her estranged redneck family betrays her, and one of her legs gets amputated? Like I said, outrageous. Eastwood directs this with aplomb, though, and his character's psychic torment over the mistakes he's made and bad luck he's been handed brought me back from the edge of total skepticism. That's the key here -- this movie is about him, not about Hilary Swank, so be prepared for a dark "autumnal masterpiece." (B)

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