Million Dollar Baby could be summed up as a boxing movie, but that would be missing the entire point of the film. The movie does contain some brutally realistic boxing footage, and Hilary Swank is absolutely convincing as a 30ish female boxer who just wants a shot at making it in the ring. The hits come fast and furious and are flinch-inducing, even to those seated safely in a theater out of harms way. But the films heart and soul is the human story. The relationship drama is never overwhelmed by what takes place in the boxing ring. Million Dollar Baby is a story of redemption, a touching tribute to the way strangers connect and form a family. As effectively portrayed onscreen in Million Dollar Baby, that connection between strangers can ultimately produce a bond stronger even than blood.
Eastwood stars as Frankie Dunn, the owner of a run-down gym, a place where talented but inexperienced boxers go to learn the sport from a man who knows his stuff. Morgan Freeman plays his trusted friend and employee, Eddie Scrap Iron Dupris. In his younger years, Dupris had a shot at making it big but lost an eye in a fight Dunn, Scrap Irons cut man, knew was going badly but was unable to stop. After a couple of decades being friends, Dunn and Dupris have the type of relationship that married couples have after similar decades in each others company.
Waitress/wannabe boxer Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) enters the scene begging to be trained and the stubborn, hard-nosed Dunn dismisses her. Shes a girl and he doesnt train girls. But Maggie doesnt give up. Shes determined to learn from the best and to fight before she gets too old to stand a chance against the much younger competition. Her struggle to win over Dunn isnt lost on Dupris, who sees a lot of himself in her fiery, competitive spirit. Overcoming his reluctance to get involved, Dunn takes on his first female fighter, training Fitzgerald to be a powerhouse in the ring. In the process of making her into a champion, Dunn learns more about life than his student can learn about boxing.
Since it opened in very limited release on December 15th, Eastwoods Million Dollar Baby has compiled an impressive list of awards. Film critics groups including the San Diego Film Critics Society, Seattle Film Critics, and the New York Film Critics Circle have bestowed best of 2004 honors on Million Dollar Baby or its director. Eastwood and/or the film are included on dozens of best of 2004 lists, and reviews of the film are overwhelmingly positive.
There are times you wonder if a movie is piling up the praise because of the popularity of its leading actor or the reputation of its director. And it wouldnt be stretching it to say that because Clint Eastwood directed and starred in Million Dollar Baby, its being given more attention than it might have if an unknown director had been in charge. While sometimes that extra little push into the limelight that extra consideration shown to a movie based on who is behind the camera means a movie gets way more attention and awards than it deserves, thats not the case with Million Dollar Baby. Eastwood truly deserves all the acclaim, all the accolades hes earning for bringing this story to the screen. Million Dollar Baby is Eastwoods best work since Unforgiven. If he wins the Best Director Oscar for this, he wins it fair and square and not based solely on his considerable reputation.
Im not usually one to sing Eastwoods praises but with Million Dollar Baby, its a case of filmmaker melding as one with his material. Eastwoods Million Dollar Baby cast is equally praise-worthy. Hilary Swank physically fits the role. Her muscular, toned body looks right in the ring, and Swank nails the character by embracing the attitude of a woman who knows shes hard up against her last opportunity to prove herself. As for Morgan Freeman, hes perfected this type of role. With his comforting voice-over narration and soothing presence, Freeman provides the perfect counterbalance to Eastwoods cantankerous old coot character.
I almost wish I could point out something wrong with Million Dollar Baby just to be a little different from every other critic on the planet. Fortunately for audiences, Million Dollar Baby doesnt lend itself to any real negative statements. After a year of duds and films that are best forgotten moments after leaving the theater, Million Dollar Baby is refreshing, endearing, and unforgettable, and justifiably labeled as one of the best movies of '04.
"Million Dollar Baby" is rated PG-13 for violence, some disturbing images and thematic material.