“Million Dollar Baby” (2004) – 4.5/5 Stars


Boxing, despite the sport’s decline in popularity since the ’80s, has managed to make for some of the best films. Starting with “Rocky” and then films such as “Raging Bull,” boxing has is one of those things that seems to best represent life’s journey and its struggles. There might not be a stronger visual metaphor than the glory and physical danger of someone with a goal laying it all on the line in the ring. “Million Dollar Baby” is the latest film to exploit this genre, and armed with great talents it manages to do so with a fresh point of view.

Talent number one is Morgan Freeman. He could narrate what I did yesterday and it would be considered Oscar-worthy. There is no one better to impart wisdom to an audience and half of why “Million Dollar Baby” communicates its ideas and themes so clearly is because of him.

Talent number two is Paul Haggis, producer and screenwriter. Haggis takes stories by F.X Toole and crafts something that boxing-movie lovers haven’t seen before. It doesn’t lean entirely on the exhausted underdog cliché (“Rocky”) or the ‘rise and fall of a star’ one either (“Raging Bull”).

This underdog, Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), is more complex and more troubled. Knowing full well she’s Southern white trash, she still spends whatever money she has to join the club owned by old-time boxing trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood, who also directs) and tells the stubborn old grouch that she won’t leave until he trains her. After taking a few tips from the club’s assistant manager, a retired and half-blind former boxer named Scrap (Morgan Freeman), she captures his attention and he agrees to help her toward her dream of being a boxer.

“Million Dollar Baby” is about ambition, about establishing yourself as something and achieving in even the smallest way. Of all the boxing movies, its themes are the most universal. We all want to leave this life knowing we didn’t waste it and “Million Dollar Baby” wrestles with this on levels both obvious and subtle through its central characters.

The final talent is Mr. Oscar — Eastwood. His film is very quiet, shadow-enveloped and contemplative. He lets the characters tell this story and our interest in them keeps our attention. The actors also fit their roles perfectly. Swank has proved she can do Southern American gender ambiguous in “Boys Don’t Cry,” Freeman has shown wise supporting role prowess in “Shawshank Redemption,” and Clint Eastwood redefined tough for the silver screen in his career, making him perfect for the troubled role of Frankie.

Everything comes together in this film effortlessly. That’s what veteran filmmakers do. Though Haggis at this point was relatively unestablished, his storytelling is elegant and the veterans behind him make the script succeed in its every purpose. “Million Dollar Baby” is a sports drama, but not like you might think. Boxing is the vehicle for delivering a knock out punch of a greater sort, one that brings us unique characters and a terrific story.

4.5/5 Stars

Million Dollar Baby
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Paul Haggis, F.X. Toole (stories)
Starring: Hillary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman

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  1. Million Dollar Baby (2004) Movie Trailer

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