Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Million Dollar Movie
I saw your last fight, Shawrelle. Spent so much time face down I thought the canvas had titties - Maggie
Despite being a boxing movie, a genre which I enjoy, "Million Dollar Baby" was not a boxing movie I had planned to watch as the thought of watching Hilary Swank box did not appeal one little bit, even if it did also star Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. But then when I did finally watch "Million Dollar Baby" I was pleasantly surprised, not only did it entertain but also delivered a moving story which I had never expected. The reason being is that "Million Dollar Baby" is a beautifully crafted story not only about boxing but about a boxer, the trainer as well as his life long friend and the relationships that form between the three of them.
At 31 years of age, Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank - 11:14) knows that to reach her dream of becoming a professional boxer is going to take hard work. But undeterred she approaches Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood - Space Cowboys) in the hope that he will take her under his wing and train her like he does with his male boxers. Unfortunately for Maggie, Frankie has an old school mentality and not only doesn't believe girls should box but that at 31 she is too old. Through gritted determination and thanks to Eddie (Morgan Freeman - Bruce Almighty), Frankie's life long friend, she manages to convince the curmudgeonly Frankie that she could make it and soon finds herself beating a path to a shot at a title.
"Million Dollar Baby" starts off by lulling you into a full sense of security as it sets off on similar journey to that of "Rocky" in particular the way Frank turns Maggie into a contender. But it doesn't feel so contrived as from early on we learn it's not about money or fame for Maggie, but about making something of her life having as in her own words "grew up knowing one thing - she was trash" and "I spent another year scraping dishes and waitressing which is what I've been doing since 13". It gives "Million Dollar Baby" a different much richer emotional feel despite seeming like it's going to follow a familiar rags-to-riches formula, laden with cliche scenes.
But then just as you are sure that "Million Dollar Baby" is just another rehash of the tried and tested boxing formula it switches the story in a very unexpected manner. To give details would spoil the impact but to say it takes "Million Dollar Baby" to another level is an understatement. It starts to pose questions and build upon relationships not just between the characters but between the audience and the characters. What it also shows is that Clint Eastwood knows how to work a movie for maximum impact and when you finish watching "Million Dollar Baby" it leaves you needing a moment to reflect on what you've watched.
Without a doubt one of the most impressive aspects of "Million Dollar Baby" is the pacing as in it's 132 minutes it delivers so much without feeling rushed but also allowing you moments to take in everything that is going on. But also that alongside the main storyline there are several sub plots such as a boxer who decides to part ways with Frankie, the history between Frankie and Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris as well as Maggie's trailer trash family. It is surprising how many sub stories actually occur during the movie and not a single one of them feels out of place or included just to gain an emotional response.
Probably the biggest reason why "Million Dollar Baby" works so well is the performances from its three main stars. Having worked together before on "Unforgiven" Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman are on top of their game and there appears to be camaraderie between them like two old friends spinning yarns over a brew. But this would be nothing without interesting characters and thanks to those aforementioned subplots both the characters of Frankie Dunn and Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris feel solid three dimensional entities which draw you into the movie. Plus of course there is the wonderful narration by Freeman which although may feel a little too reminiscent to that in "The Shawshank Redemption" adds so much to the movie and perfectly delivered that it would be wrong to criticize it.
But the strange thing is that although Eastwood and Morgan play pivotal and well developed characters they actually play second fiddle to Hilary Swank who puts in a faultless performance as Maggie. I've never been a huge fan of Swanks often finding her at times a little weak but here she is a knock out, not only convincing when it comes to the fighting as well as training, and what amazing shape she got into, but also as someone who is determined to escape the reality of what life has dealt her. But it's not just the early scenes which focus on the boxing where she delivers but when the movie takes the unexpected twist Swank steps up to another level and the Oscar she won for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role was fully justified.
What tops all of this off is the brilliant behind the scenes work from the minimal musical score, the wonderful lighting which gives "Million Dollar Baby" a moodiness not seen in many similar movies but also the camera work most notably when it comes to the boxing. Rather than being all in your face violence with punches flying everywhere and excessive slow motion action, it is a lot more sympathetic too the overall nature of the movie. Yes there is blood and one scene which sees Maggie getting her nose broken is not the most pleasant, but it never feels like "Million Dollar Baby" is all about the action thanks to the cleverly shot scenes.
What this all boils down to is that "Million Dollar Baby" is a surprising movie; it turns what feels like it will be predictable on its head and shows again that Clint Eastwood is as good when it comes to directing as he is when it comes to acting. But it also shows that Hilary Swank, when given a good movie and a director who obviously knows how to get the best from her, can do much more than many give her credit for. If the thought of watching a female boxing movie is off putting then ignore those feelings as "Million Dollar Baby" is a much bigger movie, an emotional journey which will touch your heart but also entertain thanks to the wonderful chemistry between Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman.
Tags: Boxing Movies
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