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.