Feature by: Jack Foley
CLINT Eastwood seems to have found his niche exploring the darker
side of humanity, frequently excelling in his depictions of human
frailty and journeys towards personal redemption.
In Unforgiven, for instance,
he played a former gunslinger, haunted by his violent past, who
is forced to return to his old ways in order to bring 'justice'
to some cow-hands who have violated a prostitute.
While In The Line of Fire depicted him as a presidential bodyguard
still wracked with guilt over his inability to stop the bullet
that killed Kennedy, who is given a shot at redemption by John
Malkovich's potential assassin.
Even in lesser films, such as Absolute Power, he played a jewel
thief trying to patch things up with his estranged daughter.
While Mystic River, his last
film as director, revelled in its depiction of four men struggling
to come to terms with past actions and guilt.
It comes as little surprise, therefore, to find that Million
Dollar Baby, which finds him acting, directing, producing
and writing the score, exists in similarly heartfelt territory.
Based on a short story from the collection, Rope Burns, by FX
Toole, and adapted for the screen by Emmy-winning screenwriter,
Paul Haggis, the film finds Eastwood as luckless gym owner and
boxing trainer, Frankie Dunn, who reluctantly agrees to tutor
Hilary Swank's feisty female boxer, Maggie Fitzgerald, with a
view to getting her a shot at the title.
The ensuing journey forces Dunn to confront his inner demons,
from his estranged relationship with his daughter, to the guilt
he still feels for the injury suffered by his gym manager, Eddie
'Scrap Iron' Dupris (Morgan Freeman), in his final fight.
And it was the themes of human frailty and personal redemption
that first attracted Eastwood to the project.
"What interested me about Million Dollar Baby is the fact
that it isn’t really a boxing story," he explains on
the film's website.
"It’s a love story about
a person who is distressed about his non-existent relationship
with his daughter, and who then finds a sort of surrogate daughter
in this young girl who is dying to make her mark on the world
as a boxer.
"Frankie is searching for redemption. He’s an Irish
Catholic guy, who’s in his senior years, and he’s
become disillusioned with his church and his lack of a relationship
with his daughter. The dilemma with his daughter is very tough
on him, and it’s left a huge void in his life."
His subsequent relationship with Maggie forces him to cast aside
prejudices he has about women fighters, as well as to confront
his fears about entering into personal relationships, particularly
a father/daughter one.
And his decision to tutor Maggie marks the key turning point
in Dunn's life, as Eastwood states:
"When Frankie finally agrees to train her, the film becomes
a love story – not a romantic love story, but a father/daughter
"Maggie is the daughter that he misses in his life, and
he’s the father that she lost at a very early age. And it’s
through this relationship that Frankie really finds himself and
has a rebirth of sorts."
Eastwood views Million Dollar Baby as a film enriched not only
by the multi-layered performances of his cast, but by the backdrop
against which the characters struggle to realise their greatest
desires and confront their deepest fears.
"Boxing plays an important role in the story, but this picture
isn’t about boxing; it’s about human relationships,"
"And there are some things that go unspoken in the film.
Just as it was with Mystic River, the audience has to participate
somewhat in deciding where the story goes after the film ends."
As a result, Eastwood, the director, has crafted a movie that
rates among the finest work of his career - as both filmmaker
It has rightly been hailed as the best film of 2004 by The National
Society of Film Critics - a group of leading US critics - and
has five Golden Globe nominations.
What's more, it could even land Eastwood more personal Oscar
success, given that it rates among the leading contenders for
best film and best director, as well as best actress, for Hilary
It is, in short, a magnificent movie that any fan of great cinema
really ought to see.