Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by Paul Haggis, based on stories from Rope Burns by F.X. Toole
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Albert S. Ruddy, Tom Rosenberg, Paul Haggis
This Academy Award winner for Best Picture of 2004 seemed to forge an unholy backlash of conservative pundits (claiming to be upset over the moral implications of the story), haters who had a problem with Hilary Swank and hipsters who perhaps felt critics over praised this boxing movie. The hipsters come closest to having an intelligent criticism, but what becomes apparent evaluating Million Dollar Baby on its own terms is that Eastwood is simply making the best ‘60s movies released in the 2000s. There’s no sex, no graphic violence, no special effects. The story is so modest — scaled to human beings — as to almost be considered a B-movie and the color is so unsaturated, it looks like it was shot in black & white. Earning every emotion it extracts, it’s also a film of power and beauty and worth every award it was handed.
Based on the short stories of trainer and cutman Jerry Boyd (writing under the pen name F.X. Toole), the picture is rich with distinctions. The adaptation by Paul Haggis has depth and vitality, with the outcome of a boxing card revealing more than winners and losers, but a lifetime of struggle rewarded or unrewarded for both the fighter and their trainers. Morgan Freeman’s narration has a bittersweet sagacity to it while detailing what makes boxing and its fans unique. The moral equation the film dials up had been sitting there for a while, waiting to be dealt with honestly and maturely in a movie; Eastwood answers that call. What enriches Million Dollar Baby most is the delicate, peaceful music composed by Eastwood, with Gennady Loktionov arranging and conducting a 25 piece orchestra — 23 strings, one piano and one spellbinding acoustic guitar picked by Bruce Forman.
Following a boxing match in which trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) inches his fighter “Big” Willie Little (Mike Colter) closer to a long awaited title bout, he’s approached by a girl named Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) and asked to train her. Frankie brushes her off, even after she claims that people who’ve seen her fight say she’s tough. “Girlie, tough ain’t enough.” When Frankie isn’t haranguing his community priest (Brian O’Byrne) or mailing his estranged daughter letters that are sent back “return to sender”, he runs a boxing gym in downtown Los Angeles called The Hit Pit. Employed as maintenance man and sleeping in the back is Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman), blind in one eye from a fight 23 years ago that Frankie blames himself for being unable to stop when he was a cutman.
Watching her work out religiously at The Hit Pit, Eddie throws Maggie a few pointers and lets her mess around with a speedbag that belonged Frankie, who ultimately gives in and agrees to train the girl how to fight. When Maggie questions Frankie about his relationship with his daughter, he passes her off on a manager who throws Maggie into the ring before she’s ready. Learning to listen to Frankie, Maggie TKOs a trail of female boxers in the first round of her early fights. Taking Frankie to Missouri to visit her obtuse welfare recipient mother (Margo Martindale), Maggie surprises her family with keys to a house, but fails to win a shred of gratitude in return. Playing up Maggie’s Irish heritage, Frankie promotes her as “Mo Chuisle” and accepts a title fight in Las Vegas with a million dollar purse. A world championship seems within their reach.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 223 users: 91% for Million Dollar Baby
Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 86 for Million Dollar Baby
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