Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

As a general rule I am not particularly fond of Clint Eastwood's directorial work. The only films of his that I have been particularly impressed with have been Mystic River and Play Misty for Me. I can now add Million Dollar Baby to that mix. I don't hold it in as high regard as Mystic River, but it is still very good.

Clint Eastwood plays Frankie Dunn, a boxing trainer and manager in the twilight of his career. He owns a gym, and has recently lost a fighter to the current big shot manager Mickey Mack. His longtime friend Eddie (Morgan Freeman) tells him it's because he didn't show enough confidence in the man as a fighter, and Mickey Mack did.

Recently there has been a woman named Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) who has been working out at the gym. She's been trying to convince Frankie to train her, but he insists that he doesn't train girls. Maggie is very persistent however, and continues to show up at the gym day in day out. Along the way Eddie has been giving her little tips to try and help her out.

After some period of time Maggie's persistence pays off. On her 32nd birthday Frankie finally gives in and agrees to train her, as long as she doesn't ask any questions and does exactly what he says. Of course she is ecstatic and agrees. After about a year of training, it seems Maggie is ready for a fight.

Maggie's already too good once she finally enters the ring. She keeps winning by KO time and time again in the first round. She’s so dominant and the fights are over so fast that she’s not spending enough time in the ring to improve her game. Eventually no managers will let their fighters be embarrassed by facing Maggie in the ring. Frankie doesn't want to take the chance on moving her up to the next league at this point in her career, but since no one will fight her he has no choice.

It turned out to be the right choice, as Maggie continues to be absolutely dominant and before too long she is getting offers to fight for titles. She heads to England for the British title and wins. She continues on to many other European countries and continues to win, and before too long she's ready for the World Championship Fight.

The fight for the Welter Weight World Championship is against a German fighter named Billie The Blue Bear. Billie is a notoriously dirty fighter who wins her fights by bending and breaking all the rules. Think a female Mike Tyson. Maggie puts up a good fight, and just as things seem to be going her way tragedy strikes. Billie The Blue Bear hits her from behind as she's heading back to the corner and she falls and breaks her neck on the stool. This starts a whole new dimension in the film as Frankie must now decide how to deal with the situation and figure out what's right and what's wrong.

Million Dollar Baby is a superb film led by magnificent performances that really carry the film. Oscar winners Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman really strut their stuff in some of their greatest roles. Morgan Freeman narrates the film, something that he can do better than anyone out there. Any movie where Mr. Freeman is listed as narrator is probably worth checking out.

Paul Haggis (who also wrote/directed Crash) writes a fantastic screenplay. He is able to really bring across the father/daughter relationship that develops between Frankie and Maggie without changing the way they speak to each other too drastically. Remember that behind most great performances is a great script. Definitely a depressing film, make sure that you have the tissue box handy for your wife or girlfriend. In my opinion it is worth seeing, even if you find the vast majority of Eastwood's work overrated like myself. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = B+

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