Million Dollar Baby-2004
Starring-Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank
Scott’s Review #798
Reviewed August 2, 2018
Million Dollar Baby (2004) is arguably Clint Eastwood’s best directed film of his career. Rivaling Mystic River (2003) by a hair, the film has a raw emotional appeal, empathetic and richly carved characters, and mainstream sensibility. These combined elements resulted in huge box office success and Oscar wins for Picture, Director, Actress, and Supporting Actor in the year of its release.
Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is a hardened boxing coach who owns a run-down Los Angeles gym. He works with his best friend and assistant, Eddie (Morgan Freeman). When aspiring female boxer, Maggie (Hilary Swank), arrives and begs Frankie to train her, he initially declines, but at Eddie’s urging, eventually relents and leads her to great success as a top female boxer. Frankie and Maggie forge a close-knit, father/daughter relationship, a substitute for the damaged one he has with his own daughter.
The final portion of Million Dollar Baby takes a very dark turn, as Maggie is illegally punched during a bout by a fellow boxer, causing her to become a quadriplegic. These events are what changes the tone of the film from a very good sports drama to a great tale in morality. Many emotions and debates transpired after this film was released and the common question of, “What would you have done?” engulfed viewers for months, all through awards season. The heartbreaking effects of the story events raises the film head and shoulders above most typical sports films.
Too often Eastwood creates films that are palpable, but in a way generic, and very Hollywood. Grand Torino (2008) and Invictus (2009) are good examples of this- especially Invictus given the sports drama element. Some assumed that Million Dollar Baby was to be a female Rocky (1976) and the film was indeed marketed as such. For this reason some felt robbed or duped, but I celebrate this film as leaning a firm left of center with a refreshing, progressive approach.
The performances are amazing all around, even by Eastwood- never known for his acting talent. The characters are written as character driven, but not caricatures. Wounded, grizzled, and flawed, in his senior years Frankie is seeing his life having passed him by, having achieved nothing. Never has Eastwood portrayed a character as complex and reserved as Frankie.
Swank deserved her second Oscar (1999’s Boys Don’t Cry was her first) for simply becoming a boxer- her pre-filming prep schedule reportedly was insane. More than the muscle and toning she achieved, is the raw acting talent and wounded emotions she possesses. The character is written as pained and vulnerable, but also very strong. She has achieved little in her life- working as a waitress in Missouri and stealing scraps of leftovers to survive. Her family is trash through and through, only wanting her eventual riches for themselves. The character is inevitably championed as we empathize with her plight in an emotional way.
Finally, Freeman deserves recognition for being the ultimate supporting actor. As Eddie Dupris, a former fighter blind in one eye, he is the center point of the story and frequently narrates the actions of others, oftentimes offering a glimpse into the psyche of individuals. The voice of reason, he is observant and analytical, almost knowing Freddie better than Freddie knows himself. They quarrel and disagree, but are forever friends and loyal to a fault. Freeman possesses quite reserve as the audience becomes curious of his past life.
In my opinion Million Dollar Baby (2004) is Eastwood’s best film- Mystic River comes a close second, however. A seemingly formulaic story and genre are weaved into a web of humanism, emotions, and power. The film is about the characters, which makes it succeed. Eastwood has not been able to quite surpass this beautiful story, but thankfully received dripping praise and accolades for a film not soon forgotten.