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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Million Dollar Baby" has great characters, but it doesn't glorify
them. It has a wonderful story, but it never tries to impress you. The
photography, score and direction is superb, but never distracting. What
this movie is, if I have to call it something, is passion. Passion for
film-making, passion for storytelling, passion for its characters,
passion for its actors, and passion for its story and the means at
which it will go to tell it. Amazing.
Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) owns a messy boxing gym which is populated, mostly, by downbeat losers who he spends some time training. He runs it with his friend and former student Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris (Morgan Freeman), who now lives contently at a room in the gym. One day a young woman named Maggie (Hilary Swank) walks in, looking for a manager and trainer. Frankie shafts her immediately ("girly, tough ain't enough"). Frankie has bigger things on his hands. He's managing a fighter who has a shot at a title bout.
But Frankie is old and weathered and not an appealing manager, so the fighter leaves him. Frankie is broken by this; it is another in a long line of rejections and separations. We can tell that, at this time in his life, he only gets really close with those he's training (Scrap is the only exception). We can tell that his loneliness and a bit of persuasion from Scrap cause him to agree to teach Maggie. Teach, that is the agreement, not manage. But, by the end of the film he will have devoted his life to her.
So the rest of the story follows these two people. There is no real 'plot' that you could describe in a trailer because it is constantly changing it is not the inspiring underdog story you may think of it as. No, what it's 'about' is these characters, and how they react to the circumstances around them, which change with each scene.
Narrating the story is Scrap, speaking like he's looking back to a time long ago when everything has passed. His voice seems flat, deadpan, but there is a working of subtle sorrow in it. Scrap is a sad human being, he sees himself as the result of missed opportunities in the past, and so he spends his time helping the others, offering them his wise advice, with a tone of deadpan humor and even cockiness. Scrap knows what should be done, and what will happen regardless, and he is sort of okay with everything, in a sort of passive way. But the man also knows what's right and he has a deep, inner strength which is displayed in one scene in particular where you just have to cheer. It is an intriguing character, and personally I think it's Freeman's best performance.
And Eastwood's best too. He is an elderly man; some might say too elderly to still be working. After all, most people are retired by his age. But if you had to guess when you're watching this film, you would never, ever say the man is seventy-four. You would say something closer to the sixties, because the man has such amazing energy and dedication, and above all, he has talent. It's been forty long years since "A Fist Full of Dollars" and film has come a long way, and so has this man. At seventy-four, passed all those years as an action hero, nearing what's could be the end of his career, Eastwood has made his best movie. I really, really hope he has time to make many more.
As for Swank, well, she must have found something big that she shared with her character, because this is not acting, it is existing. Swank is Maggie. That's all there is too it. This could be the movie she will be remembered for.
So, "Million Dollar Baby" is a masterpiece. I saw it last night when it opened in my city, and everyone else was seeing "White Noise", and I was shaking my head. Everyone who is even remotely interested in movies should see this one, just so they can know how movies are supposed to be made. I'm trying to think, and there is not a single thing here where Eastwood went wrong. The acting, directing, writing, score, cinematography they all accomplish precisely what they're supposed to with sublime perfection. Many of these aspects will certainly receive Oscars and all of them should.
You may cry through this film, you may cheer. Whatever the case, you will love it.
Flawlessly written, acted and directed, MILLION DOLLAR BABY is being hymned and wreathed by the critics as the best film of 2004. They're absolutely right. "An old master's new masterpiece," the NEW YORK TIMES said in a review that was more of an open love letter to Eastwood than anything remotely resembling a critical analysis of the film itself. For once such honey-tongued critical adulation is fully merited. Dark, edgy, subtle and at times emotionally devastating, MILLION DOLLAR BABY represents the apotheosis of Eastwood's art - the most lucid and intelligently limned expression of his philosophy of the outsider, the noble loners whose personal codes of honour set them both above and apart from the compromised, corrupt societies they inhabit. The Boxing Ring As Metaphor For Life is a hoary trope almost as old as Hollywood itself, employed to varying effect in films as diverse as THE CHAMP, GOLDEN BOY, REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT, THE GREAT WHITE HOPE, FAT CITY, ROCKY and RAGING BULL. In MILLION DOLLAR BABY, though, Eastwood the director brings a fresh eye and an entirely fresh approach to both the setting and characterisations, virtually re-inventing this venerable sub-genre rather than simply recycling its conventions. Eastwood the actor is in fine form - a commanding if increasingly weather-beaten presence - as gym owner Frankie Dunn. A case study in loneliness, Dunn's creased face is a map of places you'd rather not go to and disappointment has clearly been a life-long companion. Co-stars Hilary Swank and the magnificent Morgan Freeman, playing Frankie's unlikely protegee Maggie Fitzgerald and friend "Scrap-Iron" Dupris, give what are without question the best performances of their respective careers: deftly underplayed, their roles provide emotionally overwhelming impacts more powerful than anything glimpsed in the film's riotous fight sequences. Forming an iron triangle forged from mutual dependence, Dunn and Dupris school the impulsive but untutored Maggie in both the techniques of boxing and the tradecraft of survival in a world pre-disposed to pulverise individualism. The canvas-floored square ring becomes the arena in which all three characters confront their various demons, battling for both victory and personal redemption. Paul Haggis' screenplay is itself a masterwork, improving on its source material without betraying the concise but compelling situations and superbly drawn characters found in F.X. Toole's short stories. And, finally, Eastwood the composer's elegiac but unobtrusive score is a minor classic of its kind, a requiem to both lost souls and lost causes. MILLION DOLLAR BABY is not only the best film released in 2004 it is also the most fully realised and richly textured major studio movie of the decade.
Million Dollar Baby is a movie about boxing like Braveheart is a movie
about men in kilts riding horses. What it is is a movie to experience
if you find yourself ever entertaining thoughts about loyalty,
determination, talent, no talent, age, youth, courage, fear, fate, and
the pain and joy of both living and dying.
I read reviews of Million Dollar Baby and expected to like it. Roger Ebert can be soft on movies because he is plainly a big fan, but even he does not lightly toss around the M-word, masterpiece. Yet he drops it on MDB, and justly so. The story is simple and searing. A gal (Hilary Swank) with much heart and no experience aspires to be the champion of the world. She is Rocky in a sports bra. A grizzled fight trainer-manager/gym owner (Clint Eastwood) reluctantly takes her on. His best pal and wise-man assistant (Morgan Freemna) stands alongside them, as the plot unwinds steadily, seamlessly, picking up speed, scene by scene, act after act. Eastwood and Freeman are artists at the top of their profession and they, along with the brilliant Swank, present you the very worthy lives of three people you will care about and remember. The arena is boxing, but it might as well have been boating or baking. It is a story about values and truths that far exceed sports and movies. I walked into the Lowes Lincoln Square theater last night knowing Million Dollar Baby was taking me on a ride and willing to hop aboard. What a beautiful, memorable ride it was.
Clint Eastwood is a man of faith. He is an artist who is confident and
experienced enough to have a deep faith in the audience that he is
trying to reach. He is also a master of omission, of the left-out
detail/line, trusting in his gut that his audience is willing to
participate in his films by exercising their imaginations; that they
never want any aspect of the story to be 'dumbed-down' for ready
consumption. In fact, his trust in the audience to use their own minds
to fill in gaps is like a gift of part ownership in the film. "Million
Dollar Baby" is a beautiful gift, and a masterpiece if film-making.
Eastwood plays Frankie Dunn, an elder boxing coach, manager, and expert 'cut man' who runs a gym and is learning Gaelic on the side. He's a nice enough guy, but he can't seem to shake the guilt from ghosts in his past (some we're in on, some not quite). His guilt/shame is a constant just beneath the surface and gives him something of a cold exterior, sometimes frozen. Yet, as played by Eastwood, you know Dunn's aware of his own plight, but just doesn't know how to melt the ice. Or more importantly, if he's deserving of such a meltdown.
Enter Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank). She's a thirty-something trailer trash woman from southwest Missouri. An unlikely hero for sure. But for my money, Maggie is this generation's Rocky. That may seem an easy, simplistic, and over-reaching comparison, but the parallels are deep, obvious and myriad. Like many people, Maggie's dream (being a professional boxer) is always just out of reach, yet she cannot give it up. She works as a waitress to make ends meet (or at least the ends are almost touching), but spends all her spare time training. Like Dunn, Maggie has her own ghosts haunting her, and through these ghosts they bond tighter than super glue. The heart and work (incalculably huge amounts) that Swank put into becoming Maggie are unnoticeable. It's a silly phrase but it's as if she was born to play this part. It fits like a glove. The real life parallel of her relationship to Eastwood no doubt played a part in her ability to connect with the character's relationship to Dunn. Yet this in no way diminishes her accomplishment. She is brilliant.
Morgan Freeman plays Dunn's right-hand man (Scrape) at the gym, and reprises a role similar to Red from "Shawshank Redemption". He also voices the omniscient narration to the story, a la Red. Like Dunn and Maggie, he's similarly bruised, but somehow less deeply. He's there when both of them need support and helps to bring them together. I can think of nobody acting in film today who can embody kindness and wisdom through friendship and support better than Freeman. He also serves to bring in another Eastwood trademark 'Banter'. Even when themes are heavy, Eastwood's sense of humor is never entirely absent and he and Freeman have a good time with each other, as did Bacon and Fishburne in "Mystic River". These three characters together create a beautiful and true, albeit small, family unit Eastwood's lifelong themes and 'blurring of lines' are on full display: good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, the role of violence, redemption, guilt/shame over previous acts, even god and death. Never one for easy answers, his version of the truth lies in the shadows, quite literally. Cinematographer Tom Stern crafts characters in shadow, shifting in and out of light. There is a grey area between the light and the dark where something approaching truth lies waiting, and this is where Eastwood takes us, then leaves us there to ponder. "Million Dollar Baby" is a shadow play. As accomplished as "Unforgiven" and "Mystic River", yet even more personal, this film is a triumph of human storytelling. As Bacon's character says in "Mystic River", " and the hits just keep on comin'."
Saw "Million Dollar Baby" in Manhattan last night. Clint Eastwood, one of the all-time most famous actors -- and directors -- has more than enough money where he could choose to pull the strings on block-buster, mindless action pictures, ala Jerry Bruckheimer, or comic books. Or, hell, in his twilight years he could just lay back and enjoy his millions. But no. He has chosen instead to make quieter, lower-budget, heart-felt, character driven films like "The Unforgiven" "True Crime" "Mystic River" and now Million Dollar Baby. And the world is a better place for it. Eastwood uses his multiple talents to make films that have something valuable to say. In the emotionally powerful, Million Dollar Baby, he tells an allegorical tale of boxing to subtly express themes of hope, redemption, sacrifice, persistence, and belief in one's self. The movie emphasizes that failure is a more honorable and personally fulfilling trait than never having tried, while also frowning upon laziness and leeching off others. But see the movie and judge for yourself. I personally consider great films as the ones where I leave the theater with a better understanding of human nature, or a desire to improve the world by even a little bit. Eastwood's latest more than succeeds on those counts.
I don't know why, but I went into the theater thinking I was about to see a female Rocky Balboa kind of deal. I left the theater in a daze. Overwhelmed by the simple truth of its conclusion. My hat to Clint Eastwood. What an extraordinary career. An artist of enormous proportions so well camouflaged behind a shy smile and a charming, clumsy attitude. I remember focusing on Clint Eastwood through a very different lens after sitting through "Pale Rider" a mythological, lyrical western. Actors love him because he, clearly, doesn't lie to them, doesn't kiss their asses. He quite simply gives them room to maneuver. Even someone like Meryl Streep, felt freer and capable to stretch herself all the way to Italy under his wing. Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins, Jude Law, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman yes mostly men but there was also, other than Meryl Streep, Genevieve Boujold. Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney and now Hillary Swank with a performance that not even "Boys don't Cry" could predict. The film is a triumph in every department. My stomach ached from feeling. That's a compliment Mr. Eastwood. Thank you very much.
The movie is excellent. Hillary Swank deserves to receive the Oscar for her performance. I haven't seen much of her lately and am so glad that she was picked for this movie. She seems a natural for this role. Like she didn't even have to act, she just let her own emotions take charge. She stole every scene when she was on. Clint Eastwood is one heck of an actor and his directing of movies is even better. He is 75 years old and hope he has another 10 years of good movie making in him. Morgan Freeman is a great actor who never seems to receive the recognition he deserves. Tell others to see it because it isn't in the top 10 listing of viewed movies last week. I'm concerned the subject matter is too deep for most people and it will be pulled to make room for some lame-brain movie like Fat Albert.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If anyone had doubts about the genius of Clint Eastwood, they should
run, not walk, to see "Million Dollar Baby", perhaps the best movie
that came out of Hollywood is past year.
Mr. Eastwood has that rare quality in choosing an odd story to bring to the screen. With this film he accomplishes what could be, perhaps, the best movie about boxing in history. In the first place, the story by F. X. Toole, in which the movie is based, is an odd choice. We have seen, so far, men boxers, but there is a world out there where women boxers compete in this sport that is not well known, or not commonly seen. The adaptation by Paul Haggis is excellent.
"Million Dollar Baby" has a rhythm of its own, seldom seen in boxing formula pictures. Thanks to Tom Stern almost black and white cinematography, this sordid world of second class gyms in the poor areas of the inner city, makes the film more interesting in its texture. Enhancing it all is the great musical score that Mr. Eastwood, a jazz enthusiast, has created. Music has always complimented Mr. Eastwood's work, but never in such a way as in this movie.
If you haven't seen the film, please stop reading now.
Frankie Dunn, is a man who has trained boxing champions. He is a man at odds with himself. He has demons within him that are tearing away at his soul. We watch him going to mass on a daily basis, but does that qualify him as a devout Catholic? Not according to Father Horvak, who sees a troubled soul in search of redemption.
Frankie's letters comes back, returned from a daughter that wants nothing to do with him. Frankie, at the beginning of the film, loses the services of one his better boxers because a richer competitor is willing to pay the fighter much more. Frankie keeps the older Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris employed in the gym because he feels guilty in having let this former boxer down at the highest point of Scrap's career.
Into this world comes Maggie Fitzgerald. She is a young woman who wants to make it as a fighter; she comes from a white trash background and everything is against her. The only reason she has been allowed in the all-male gym is because she has paid six months worth of membership. We watch Maggie as she struggles on her own without any help from Frankie, the man she would like to interest in coaching her. Frankie realizes there is potential in this young woman, who he sees on a daily basis practicing, and he relents. Maggie proves she follows his instructions well. Then we watch her progress as she wins fight after fight until the million dollar fight with the vicious title holder.
The ironic twist toward the end of the movie arrives out of nowhere; it shakes us up because it was totally unexpected. It makes Frankie and Maggie become father and daughter. Because of the guilt he feels in his own life, Frankie does the right thing in accepting the responsibility of the situation.
The ending is the only thing that feels a bit manipulative in the film, although it's handled with a lot of taste, as it would have been worse in the hands of another, less capable director. The only other complain is that Mr. Eastwood speaks in a whisper, which distracts from what is going on, as we strain our ears to catch every nuance of the brilliant dialog. Also, the voice over by Morgan Freeman's character is at times, unintelligible.
This is a film totally dominated by Clint Eastwood. As an actor, he brings to the role total credibility as the tormented soul inside Frankie. Hilary Swank makes a brilliant Maggie, the ambitious girl that gets much more than what she bargained for. Ms. Swank has the best moment of her career after her work in "Boys Don't Cry". Working with the right elements, Ms. Swank is an actress that works with little gestures to achieve her input in the character she is playing.
Morgan Freeman is excellent as the beaten Scrap, a man who "could have been a contender". He underplays this character with sensational results. Brian O'Byrne, a theater actor who has been seen in two important plays this year in the New York stages, makes an impression as Father Hovark, who seems to understand Frankie. Margo Martindale is convincing as Maggie's mother.
Sometimes it takes a lot for a film to be good. All the right elements were gathered by Clint Eastwood for this movie. It makes one wonder what will his next project be, or if he can surpass the milestone he created with "Million Dollar Baby".
Wow- what an incredible movie! There are so many layers to this film, one could almost see it 4 times and get something new out of it every time. I loved first and foremost its message that we create ourselves through our drive, loyalty, ambition, dedication, and work. Secondly, I love its insistence in the good of the American Dream, and I loved its excitement and beautiful, touching message toward the end. A movie about violence and ambition that evolves into a movie about love, hard-earned sacrifice, and doing something meaningful with one's life. Grade A entertainment with a beautiful message to boot! Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood should both win their second Oscars for their contribution to cinema.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Million Dollar Baby" is the story of three different characters
Actually, two of them, Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) and Scrap Iron (Freeman)
are pretty much mirror images of each other
Frankie owns a rundown Los Angeles gym where he trains up-and-comers His motto for his fighters is "protect yourself at all times." Scrap is an elderly ex-boxer who helps out around the gym and keeps Frankie company Frankie was the 'cut-man' in one of Scraps' fights that turned bad Frankie still feels he's partly to blame
But 31 year old Maggie (Hilary Swank) is totally different She works as a waitress but aspires to be a boxer She is so poor that she has to pick leftover meat off her customers' plates just to have the energy to keep going
Maggie needs boxing to make something of herself and gain respect When she first approaches Frankie, asking to be trained, he told her he never trains girls She continues to hang around and after much harassment he eventually changes his mind From there, we begin to feel some natural affinity between the two To say more would be to ruin a lovely, heartbreaking film carefully layered with surprises
Beneath "Million Dollar Baby," there is a love story A deep love story between two people with scars in their lives... Both are haunted by family problems Maggie's family, led by her opportunistic mother is alternately cruel and exploitative Frankie has an unloving daughter he writes to constantly, but his letters always returned unopened, unread and intact We never know what came between them
Eastwood handles his role with such ease that it's hard to judge whether his acting or directing is the greater accomplishment He stands as a challenge to his conscience when he finds the correct answer in his heart
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