Million Dollar Baby
Paul Haggis (Stories from Rope Burn : F.X. Toole)
Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
PG-13 (For violence, some disturbing images, thematic material and language)
The underdog story takes a wholly new direction in Clint Eastwood’s boxing drama Million Dollar Baby.
Hilary Swank stars aside Eastwood, who also directs, as female boxer Maggie Fitzgerald. The film opens as she’s lovingly watching Eastwood’s Frankie Dunn assist his current boxing trainee into a match victory. Afterwards, she approaches him to ask him to train her. He refuses indicating he doesn’t train girls and suggests she find someone else.
When she stubbornly turns up at his gym, he insists she look elsewhere. His assistant, former boxing champ Eddie Dupris(Morgan Freeman), however, takes a liking to her determination and spirit. After many tense encounters, Frankie reluctantly agrees to take her on. From there, the film explores their delicate relationship that expands far beyond the typical mentor and student bond and to one of father and daughter.
Frankie’s own daughter is nowhere around and we learn through dialogue that she won’t speak with him and only returns his letters unopened. Still, Eddie and Frankie’s annoyed pastor insist that he continue trying because one day she might respond. It becomes obvious with his doting over Maggie that he has found in her a replacement for his lost daughter.
The film takes a twist roughly three-quarters through, one which leaves Frankie, Eddie and Maggie in the middle of a moral quandary. Their decisions effect their lives more than anything had leading up to that point and most of all, Frankie must come to turns with love and loss once again.
Eastwood’s talent in front of the camera is beginning to rival his behind-the-camera work. Long gone are the days of Dirty Harry and Every Which Way But Loose. He easily coaxes a wonderful performance out of Swank, whose recent work hasn’t supported her Oscar win forBoys Don’t Cry (The Core is hardly mesmerizing).
Freeman’s work is solid as the half-blind ex-champ who acts as a softener for the gruff Eastwood. Together, the three make an impressive ensemble. The problem is that Eastwood falls into the same trap that he faced in Mystic River. The screenplay boasts too many superfluous characters. Ones such as the pastor and a retarded boxer wannabe are unnecessary to the plot, much like Kevin Bacon’s character in Mystic River.
This single hole does not sink the Million Dollar Baby that confirms Eastwood as a late-career bloomer. The film doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. It tackles one particular hot-button political issue as a result of the twist but no one will get that information out of this critic.
Audiences are bound to find a great deal of enjoyment in Million Dollar Baby but after the twist, traditional audiences might shy away from the complex moral issues portrayed and leave somewhat unenthused while others might find the film too depressing for their enjoyment. Those who don’t mind will enjoy the stark realism with which they are faced and may come out with a new opinion on a long-lasting moral debate.
March 2, 2005