Million Dollar Baby (2004) (PG-13)
Working from a script by Paul Haggis, Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" may seem like just another boxing movie. When you consider the minimum of Oscar winning flicks that have surrounded sports ("Rocky" and "Chariots of Fire" being the only other examples) one would have to assume that this movie would contain something special that sets it above the many, many tropes of the sub-genre. If you think this way, you would be right. Clint Eastwood is by no means a flashy director, the most flare the director ever showed was in his earlier works like "High Plains Drifter". He uses the bare basics: the camera, the lighting, the cast; but never doubt the power of his filmmaking.
"Million Dollar Baby" opens to find Frankie Dunn (Eastwood), a boxing trainer and gym owner, almost ready to have one of his fighters take home a title. Big Willie Little (Mike Colter) has been winning fight after fight and thinks that he is ready to spread his proverbial wings and take a swing at a title match; but Frankie has other thoughts. The way he trains and the way he manages his fighters seems frustrating to all involved. He's determined and almost too cautious with them, simultaneously treating them like flesh, blood, and eggshells.
After one of Big Willie's wins, Frankie is approached by a driven woman named Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) who asks Frankie to train her and she gets the typical response we'd expect from a grizzly old man set in his ways: "I don't train girls".
Not dismayed at all, Maggie continues to nag Frankie, showing up at his gym and practicing boxing during all the empty hours she has in a day. It consumes her. Struggling with finances, it's all that Maggie can do to keep her head above the water and pursue her passion.
Frankie's right hand man, Eddie (Morgan Freeman) sees the fervor in Maggie and steers her in the right direction with some of her most basic training.
Keeping his fighters at bay for so long ramps up the angst in their relationship and it all caves in on Frankie when Big Willie leaves him for another manager who promises to take him to the title, which he does and Big Willie wins with ease.
Now Frankie has nothing to do but sulk and try to learn Gaelic while managing his gym. The characters around the facility are wide-open, with so many egos playing measuring games with each other. One young skinny boy who calls himself Danger Barch (Jay Baruchel) seems almost delusional concerning boxing. Eddie, who serves as our narrator, makes the comment that maybe Danger has too much heart.
In between both Maggie and Frankie's routine-esque fashion of survival, they both come to the realization that something has to change. Maggie finally confronts Frankie and essentially demands to be taken on which he does with stipulations: no questions.
And then the training starts and Maggie's career takes off.
If you think that's even close to the end of the story, you have another thing coming...but my lips are sealed.
"Million Dollar Baby" depends entirely on its rich characters, and the cast here is simply perfect, never once slipping and completely convincing of their souls, immortalized forever on screen. This is why movie making can be so magical and mystical. When everything comes together, all the components fit, and that special extra something takes hold—it's breathtaking.
A movie about boxing, a movie about blood, a movie about life. It sounds so trite to even mention that glories of Eastwood's accomplishments because the layers of complexity within the picture are both intrinsic to the movie and hard to mention without sounding nonchalant. Crises of faith, faults, sins, forgiveness—they all combine into one of the most poetic of all movies that have come out in the last decade.
It's a musical movie, one that seems ethereal. It's gut wrenching, beautiful, and meditative. I would say that "Million Dollar Baby" is an example of the closest film has gotten to mirror the agony and the magnificence of every day life. It never tries to make its story sound too important, it never shies away, and it always leaves room for the breaths in between.
It feels like a painting or a song. Maybe it has too much heart.
Posted by Micah Jones