Million Dollar Baby
- Clint Eastwood
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Wednesday, February 02, 2005
If I’ve learned anything about Clint Eastwood’s approach to filmmaking is that he likes things the simple way. Every film by Clint that I’ve seen I walk out from with a feeling that I had such a good time without any complications. That’s how he likes to present his films and I just love the love he shows for his spectators. He doesn’t want us to suffer much, at least not for the wrong reasons. Lately, he has filmed stories that aren’t all that easy to swallow, all the more reason to tell the tales in an easy-going way. He and the screenwriters working for him deserve praise for that.
This time around, Eastwood has filmed a screenplay by TV veteran Paul Haggis, from a short story in a book called “Rope Burns” by F.X. Toole. I haven’t read the source so I suppose maybe some subplots come from other stories, but mostly, Million Dollar Baby comes from the story of the same name, about a determined female boxer who wants to be trained by a pro to become one herself.
The young boxer, Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), comes from a hillbilly life she really wants to leave behind, and her choice for a trainer is Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), a hardened old man who runs a not-so-successful gym, aided by his friend and one-time trainee Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris (Morgan Freeman). Frankie really resists training the girl, convinced that boxing is not for the female gender. But after seeing her unstoppable determination, and noticing how Eddie has been helping her anyway, he gives in. Surprisingly, Maggie becomes a champ in no time at all.
The power of this film lies in how simply it looks at people without turning them into one-note characters. They don’t have to burst into tears every five minutes and whine about their problems to make us care about them, but they’re not paper-thin either just because they don’t talk much about them. They simply live their lives and little by little, as we get to know them, it becomes clear how complex they are and what’s all they carry on their backs and shoulders.
Another asset of the film is the contrast created by the three main characters, how each takes their problems in a different way, how each faces them and learns from them or not. And when they all become complements of each other and the story is complete because of their interaction, the screen bursts with energy during a couple of quiet scenes with quiet music and nothing much really happening. You know how powerful that is? So powerful I feel like crying (all over again).
I had to warn from the first paragraph that there would be no spoilers here because I guess if you’re reading this and haven’t seen the movie you’ve heard there’s something going on in there that if spoiled, it can work against you and your experience. I just won’t even give you a hint of what it is. But what it is, like everything else, is handled with tranquility and patience, like a work of art crafted little by little to make it much better than it would be if the artist rushed. That plot turn is indeed the reason why this story is worth telling in the first place, and makes the film “something” instead of just “good”, but it’s just another example of how to handle a situation right. This movie is full of such examples.
Not bursting with them though. To be fair, a couple of things aren’t handled as well as they probably should, namely the subplot of a foolish amateur by the name of “Danger” Barch (Jay Baruchel), and the exaggerated presentation of Maggie’s hillbilly family. Those are minor quibbles though, and they surely don’t affect the film as a whole.
The performances? Magnificent. Clint Eastwood is not usually regarded as a great actor, but here he proves once again that he does have what it takes. His performance is my favorite in the film, as he’s so good being a grumpy old man as he is being a sweet tutor. His smile during a sad scene in a car is unforgettable to me. Swank is a good contrast: So full of life, so optimistic, so happy for every chance she gets in life… She’s also outstanding at every turn. And Freeman plays a quiet fellow, powerfully low, and his performance is so good that he can move you to core with only a couple of words spoken with a lot of not-too-showy sentiment. He also provides the narration, and his voice-over is much of what makes his performance so great. It would seem that he was born to be a storyteller, if he wasn’t so good onscreen too!
A sweet down-key score by Eastwood himself accompanies the proceedings, but every cinematic aspect is a treat: Photography, production design, editing, etc. The boxing scenes are exciting and the dramatic scenes are powerful. It’s a compelling story told and presented right.
“But you’ve got me… at least until we get you a good manager.”
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Million Dollar Baby
- Clint Eastwood
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is an old trainer who owns a muddled boxing gym and runs it with the help of former boxer and alumni Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris (Morgan Freeman), who even has a small room in that place, where he lives. One day an aspiring boxer, Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), comes in looking for Frankie to train her. He is not interested, mainly because she is a woman and because she is rather old for the sport. But Maggie persists and stays there.
Million Dollar Baby is based upon a collection of short stories written by F.X. Toole. Eastwood saw greatness in the material and quietly shot his movie without much help from production company Warner Bros. He also opted for a slow roll-out in theaters, giving the movie its time to breath and grow on people. And it’s rather a funny coincidence, since that’s just how his movie actually plays.
The movie is nothing more than the tale of three lonely individuals and the bonds they form with each other. At its core you could say it is a boxing movie, but believe me, boxing serves merely as an excuse to tell an extraordinary story about redemption, guilt, perseverance, family and friendship. Paul Haggis’ screenplay is in no rush to tell its story. We get three-dimensional characters that grow on us rather slowly, but whose stories are immersed in our feelings faster than we thought. And it’s in the details that the movie creates these fascinating individuals, whether showing Frankie receiving letters from his estranged daughter or showing him praying at night, or whether having Frankie and Eddie have a conversation about socks, or whether showing Maggie visiting her family or learning she doesn’t care about a television. And yet we never feel like we’re being manipulated, but on the other hand, we feel like we know these people. And therein lies some of its greatness.
It also helps that the movie flows effortlessly from start to finish. Clint’s impeccable direction has a lot to do with it, but the screenplay and Morgan Freeman’s pitch-perfect voice-over are also part of why it works so well. And that’s not to mention Joel Cox’s editing, which brings excitement to the boxing sequences without going for an over-the-top approach, but also serves the story well in the quieter, more intimate scenes. And since it’s time to praise the team behind the technical aspects of the movie, I’d also like to mention Tom Stern’s photography and Clint’s perfectly suitable score.
By now most of you have heard that there is a rather abrupt plot development in the third act of the movie that changes everything. I won’t spoil it for you but I’m going to do my best to talk about it without saying what actually happens. That said, if you don’t want even a hint, jump to the next paragraph now (something I actually recommend if you haven’t seen the movie). If you’re still with me, I’d just like to say that the movie is not greater because of what happens at the end, but is great because of the whole. I actually felt absolutely intrigued by all the time the movie spent mostly on boxing. I think it is on par with Raging Bull at that, albeit in a different way. The dialogue seems like it came directly from heaven, using metaphors for life and explaining the characters’ motivations without preaching at all. But then something happens and we realize Clint was preparing us for it all the way. The entire movie feels like a tragedy without us really knowing why. And all I’m going to say is that you should see the movie from the point of view of the characters, not yours. To generalize is pointless, because this is a movie about these three individuals and the point they’ve come in their lives. It makes us reflect upon the power of life and death, of the fragility of one’s existence, and the things we might be able to do, or not do for that matter, when faced with certain circumstances.
Performances range from the perfect to the uber-perfect, something that actually doesn’t exist, therein making my point a bit clearer. Clint Eastwood delivers the performance of a lifetime as a troubled individual disguised as to not let anyone break that shell. But then Maggie comes and it’s a different story, as the wonderful scene in the car after they’ve visited her family shows in a heart-breaking manner. Hilary Swank, on the other hand, proves that her Oscar was not a fluke, with a performance both dignified and temperamental, physical yet overly internal, intense yet fragile at its core. And Morgan Freeman does not rely on showy gimmicks to prove he’s in complete control of his craft, while also delivering what has to be one of the best voice-over works ever.
A movie of quiet resonance, that’ll stay with you forever...
“Girly, tough ain’t enough.”
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