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Million Dollar Baby (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Starring Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Jay Baruchel, Mike Colter, Lucia Rijker, Bryan O'Byrne, Anthony Mackie, Margo Martindale, Riki Lindhome, Michael Peña, Benito Martinez, Bruce MacVittie, David Powledge, Joe D'Angerio, Miguel Peréz and Morgan Eastwood.

Screenplay by Paul Haggis.

Directed by Clint Eastwood.

Distributed by Warner Bros. 137 minutes. Rated PG-13.

During his glory days as an action hero, I was never a huge Clint Eastwood fan. Over the last couple of decades, though, he has completely reinvented himself, becoming not only an impressively subtle actor but also one of the most assured and daring movie directors working.

In a recent interview, Eastwood acknowledged that when selling his longtime film studio on his latest project, Million Dollar Baby, that he told the executives the film probably would not be a huge box office success, but it would be a movie that the studio would be proud to be affiliated with.

The fact that Eastwood places artistic integrity above the almighty dollar shows that he is a man of standards and taste. The fact that he could sell it in the bottom-line world of Hollywood is testimony to his status as a living legend. The fact that Million Dollar Baby will probably exceed his expectation, (as Eastwood's last film Mystic River did, as well) and not only become a critical favorite but also a likely make a reasonable dent in the box office, is a reason for fans of quality cinema to feel heartened. Eastwood's directing style is rather like his acting -- quiet, restrained, measured and capable of delivering quite a wallop.

Eastwood plays Frankie Dunn, an aging boxing trainer and gym owner who has been on the precipice of hitting the big time with his boxers many times, but who has never made it to the top. Frankie is a deeply conflicted man; he loves what he does and yet he hates how it has disturbed his life. He is long estranged from his daughter, writing her weekly trying to mend the rift but receiving every last envelope back with "return to sender" printed on it.

He bought the gym as an attempt for stability, but it has been losing him money ever since. Frankie isn't a businessman though, he couldn't give it up anyway because he loves the action, though is dollar-conscious enough that he will complain long and hard if someone buys the "expensive" bleach rather than getting the generic brand.

Running the place is Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris (Morgan Freeman), a former boxer who was one of Frankie's first gigs as corner man. Frankie has always felt somewhat guilty about a fight where he was Scrap-Iron's cut man and could not talk the badly injured fighter into giving up, eventually costing Dupris one of his eyes. So Frankie keeps him in a job and lets him live in a small apartment in the gym.

One night at a fight, Frankie is approached by a female boxer named Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) who wants him to be his trainer. Frankie tells her that he doesn't manage girls, but she joins the gym and keeps asking him. Maggie is a deep country girl who has always seen herself as white trash, but she sees the ring as a way out of the trailer park lifestyle of her family. She has a lot of raw talent but is completely green to the rules of the sport. Eddie gives her some pointers and technical tips, but Frankie is still resistant to her.

When Frankie's latest protégée and best shot at the championship in years leaves him for a more connected manager, Frankie has finally had enough heartbreak in his career. He agrees to train Maggie as long as she will do whatever he tells her and not question. Maggie agrees, but she is too intelligent, inquisitive and independent to live up to her deal. It doesn't matter, though, the working relationship deepens into a stronger bond, first they become friends. Quickly Maggie becomes like the daughter that Frankie lost so long ago, and the coach in turn reminds Maggie of her late father.

Working together, Maggie polishes her natural talents and becomes a formidable fighter, quickly getting more and more fights and rising up the ranks of the women's boxing world. Frankie and Maggie travel the world, hearing the cheers and making more money than either believed possible. Maggie eventually is offered a shot at the championship.

Just when you think you have the movie figured out, the script suddenly shocks you with a surprise right jab that completely undoes everything that you thought the film was leading up to. It becomes something deeper, something darker, something more human and tragic than just another sports movie. (1/05)

Ken Sharp

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: January 29, 2005.


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