By Ed Koch

Volume 74, Number 34 | December 29 – January 04, 2004

koch on film

“Million Dollar Baby” (-)

I always enjoy films that Clint Eastwood directs or stars in, and I have been a fan of his since he played the role of Ramrod in the television series “Rawhide.” Other critics gave this film favorable reviews, so I was expecting to enjoy it as well. Sorry to say, I did not.

Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) runs a gym and trains boxers in Los Angeles. His friend Scrap (Morgan Freeman) was once trained by Frankie but is now blind in one eye and disabled. Scrap works at the gym as the handyman and also acts as a one-man Greek chorus laying out what is currently happening and what will take place in the future.

Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) wants to learn to box. She views herself as trailer trash with a hillbilly family and a mother she describes as weighing 330 pounds. Frankie at first refuses to train her but ultimately takes her on as a client, and she boxes her way to the top. During her last bout, she suffers a severe spinal injury. As a result, she is on a ventilator and asks Frankie to help her die.

When I left the theater, several women leaving at the same time were in tears. I was not moved by the story. The acting is excellent, but I found the film boring and watching it tired me out. I believe boxing between men is savagery and should be outlawed. Boxing between women is worse, and those wanting to watch it are truly trash.

“The Sea Inside” (+)

This film will cause you to weep and also provide you with enormous pleasure.

The script is based on the true story of artist and poet Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem). In his 20s, he broke his neck in a diving accident off the coast of Galicia, Spain, and became a quadriplegic. Year after year he sought the right to die with dignity, seeking the assistance of his physician and friends. But assisted suicide is forbidden in Spain, and his accomplices would have been subject to criminal prosecution.

One particularly interesting and comedic scene involves a paralyzed Catholic priest who visits Ramon in his home to engage him in a philosophical discussion on why he should give up thoughts of suicide and live until God takes him.

Oregon is the only state in the United States that allows doctor-assisted suicide, subject to restrictions, e.g., length of residency, pain, lack of ability to make a decision, etc. I personally believe that the Oregon law is a good one, and I would like to see New York State adopt a similar one. But that won’t happen for a very long time, if ever.

Javier Bardem is one of the world’s great actors. If you are not familiar with his work, I encourage you to rent films that he has starred in such as “The Dancer Upstairs,” “Before Night Falls” and “Che.” In a strange way, he reminds me of both Laurence Olivier and Johnny Depp, who, for me, are the consummate actors. Olivier, who died in 1989, was willing, like Depp, to take chances by appearing in offbeat films and acting in offbeat roles.

The supporting cast in “The Sea Inside” is very talented as well. It includes Manuela (Mabel Rivera), the wife of Ramon’s brother who attends to his every need, and Julia (Belen Rueda), a lawyer suffering from a degenerative disease who assists Ramon with his pursuit of right-to-die legislation. She reminds me in appearance and beauty of a middle-aged Catherine Deneuve, before the latter gained weight. If you have never seen Deneuve in “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” rent it immediately. Other cast members include Ramon’s nephew, Javi (Tamar Novas), his brother, Jose (Celso Bugallo), who opposes the right of assisted suicide, and Rosa (Lola Duenas), who falls in love with Ramon and proposes marriage. Each actor is perfect in his/her role.

I saw this film at the Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema on E. Houston St., which has stadium seating, and I was surprised that on a Saturday night it was only about 75 percent full. You should not miss this movie.

– Ed Koch