Million Dollar Baby (2004)
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Review Date: January 07, 2005
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Paul Haggis
Producers: Clint Eastwood, Paul Haggis, Tom Rosenberg
Hilary Swank as Maggie
Clint Eastwood as Frankie
Morgan Freeman as Eddie
A cute chick with boxing on the mind walks into a grungy pugilists pit and asks the owner of the hole, an old geezer seemingly past his prime in terms of training anyone, for his help in becoming the best in the business. The man blows her off at first, but after plenty of determination, hard work and gosh-darn cuteness, falls prey to her harassing ways and takes her on as a student. What follows is a human drama that just happens to take place around the world of boxing.
Can we expect yet another heartwarming, tearjerking drama from famed actor/director/producer/composer Clint Eastwood next year, to complete the one-two punch he delivered to us in 2003’s MYSTIC RIVER and 2004’s MILLION DOLLAR BABY? Wow! Some people sit around in their old age, popping sunflower seeds all day, watching golf on TV, playing late afternoon pinnacle with the girls and waiting for the Grim Reaper to show up and confirm their identification, but Eastwood…yipes, that man is on a mission from God…or so it seems. And what a tremendously talented director he has become. His use of shadows, darkness and music in this movie is an admirable demonstration of how a movie can be accentuated in so many different ways, particularly when so seemingly simply mixed by a master. The story which, by all accounts, could have been a very basic unos-dues about a trailer-trash chick with a big heart who wants to box her way to the top, becomes a higher level product, with that sort of succinct supervision by Eastwood, the remarkably deep, yet light, screenplay by David Haggis (Eastwood gets about a hundred great one-liners here) and the potent performances by the three leads (and I include Morgan Freeman’s voice narration as a “performance” on its own, because that man can make “Girls Gone Wild” videos sound classy), taking it to that place that empowers films to become more than just simple pastimes, but connections to our souls.

Hilary Swank also has to be pointed out as the crux of that higher quality, as she delivers here, yet another Oscar-worthy performance as the down-and-out woman with the persistence of one Rockwell Balboa and the undeniable wanting passion of anyone who comes from dirt-nothing but wants so much more. That said, I honestly believed that this film would touch me on a much deeper level than it did, but certain “sticking out” points just lowered that breakthrough for me. For one, Swank’s trailer trash family was beyond one-dimensional and completely took me out of the picture, whenever they showed up, which was unfortunately, during some of the film’s more emotional sequences. Secondly, the champion boxer against whom Swank fought at some point was, once more, not only as one-dimensional as they come, but quite unbelievable and highly suspect of ever being able to own any actual such crown, much less take part in any real sanctioned boxing match. That might not mean much, but when it’s related to a very poignant turning point in a movie, it needs to be better established, in order for me to invest my whole being into the rest of the film. A character by the name of Danger was also highly stereotypical (and maybe from another era), unfunny and really not worth the time he spent in the film. Finally, despite a nice pace, which really gives you a palpable sense of every nook and cranny of the down-and-out boxing world, I felt as though the film ran a little too long in the tooth, with at least two scenes having me exhaling to myself: “Finally, a new plot point!” A touch of redundancy. I think the film would have worked ideally at about the 2-hour mark.

Finally, if anyone is going into this picture expecting a “boxing film”, look elsewhere boys and girls, because this movie is ultimately a major character drama, that just happens to be based in the world of boxing. The film’s final half hour is as heart wrenching as they come, with very little about sports, but plenty about the courage and sacrifice of the human spirit. So yeah, I really did like this movie, but unfortunately a few little tidbits took me out of the game long enough to enjoy it on a smaller level, but one that I would still recommend pretty highly to most, especially those of you who enjoyed MYSTIC RIVER and anything else that includes Mr. Eastwood, who once again, is as charming and likeable as ever in this film. Bring Kleenex.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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