Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Born To Fight - a look at women
in the ring. Producers Round 15 - interview with producers Al
Ruddy, Tom Rosenberg and Paul Haggis. James Lipton Takes On Three
- interview with Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank
the day after the Oscars.
ON THE surface, Million Dollar Baby seems like just another boxing
story of an unlikely fighter coming good - albeit in this case,
a female fighter.
But appearances can be deceptive and Clint Eastwood's latest,
which marks his follow-up to Mystic
River, is one of the most unforgettable films of the year;
a powerful reflection on human frailty and personal redemption.
For Eastwood, it also marks a tour-de-force, given that he acts,
directs, produces and composes the score; thereby confirming his
position as one of cinema's true living legends.
It is ironic, therefore, that the film itself will probably have
to fight as hard as its central protagonist to get the box office
it undoubtedly deserves - for as critically-acclaimed and awards-tipped
as it is, there's no escaping the fact that this is a hard sell.
Eastwood stars 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
Initially sceptical of taking on a woman, Dunn is persuaded to
drop his own personal guard by his only friend and gym manager,
Eddie 'Scrap Iron' Dupris (Morgan Freeman), and gradually forms
a relationship with Maggie that quickly re-awakens a paternal
instinct inside of him.
For Maggie, Dunn's faith in her propels her to newfound heights,
allowing her to rise above the low expectations of her trailer-trash
family, and thereby providing her with a long-lost father-figure.
While for Dunn, the subsequent relationship
offers the opportunity to atone for past sins, given that he is
painfully estranged from his own daughter and still blames himself
for failing to stop Dupris' final fight, which cost him an eye
as a result.
Yet just as it seems luck has turned in everyone's favour, fate
strikes its own cruel blow and both Dunn and Maggie are forced
to fight a bigger battle than even they could have imagined.
From its breezy opening section, viewers could be lulled into
a false sense of security by what Million Dollar Baby has to offer,
but be warned: it carries a heavy emotional punch.
Eastwood, the filmmaker, seems to have found a niche for himself
in exploring darker territory and the film's final section is
as gut-wrenching as any of the wounds Maggie picks up in the ring.
It is a tribute to all concerned, however, that Million Dollar
Baby never drifts into mawkish sentimentality, frequently challenging
the viewer to question their own values, while deeply sympathising
with the plight of the characters.
Eastwood has rarely been better as he journeys towards his own
form of redemption, while his chemistry with both Swank and Freeman
is first-rate (the early banter between the two old-hands, who
last appeared together in Unforgiven, is evidence of two masters
Yet Swank, too, is as strong here as she was in her Oscar-winner,
Boys Don't Cry, cutting a suitably believable fighting figure,
while also managing to convey the emotional intensity of her own
The performances serve to make the outcome of Paul Haggis' story
all the more heart-breaking and viewers should definitely enter
the cinema armed with a packet of hankies.
Yet everything about Million Dollar Baby smacks of quality, fuelling
the belief that everyone concerned should feature prominently
come Oscar time.
It is to filmmaking what Ali was to boxing - a true great in
every sense of the word.