Million Dollar Baby
- Clint Eastwood
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Tuesday, February 08, 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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Other reviews of Million Dollar Baby (2004): Morris