|Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
Director: Clint Eastwood
In the middle of “Million Dollar Baby,” an aging Clint Eastwood walks through the darkened boxing gym to confront his latest recruit and says: “It’s not about how hard you hit [the bag], but how good the hit is.” And much like the advice of his character in the film, “Million Dollar Baby” knows when and where to throw its punches every time. Eastwood also mumbles a lot of other sports philosophy throughout the film (mostly about always protecting yourself) and if the audience doesn’t take heed to his comments, you’re just as likely to get knocked down along the way. Carried at a slow and steady pace by a trio of amazing actors, brilliant direction and a solid script, “Million Dollar Baby” is a well-seasoned boxing drama that ranks among one of the best sports films ever made and is a daunting contender for the Oscar.
The sport of boxing is a little more complicated than people would probably like to believe, with plenty of ups and downs that go along with the training of a new athlete, but film veteran Clint Eastwood doesn’t shy away from the dirty stuff in “Million Dollar Baby.” Along with directing the film, Eastwood stars as Frankie Dunn, a veteran to the boxing world as one of the best cut-men (part of the corner team that mends the cuts and stops the bleeding) who is given a second chance at leading a fighter to the title match when Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) walks through the door of his gym asking for his help. At first, Frankie doesn’t take kindly to the near-white trash boxer or her goal of becoming a female champion (a new side of the sport that he considers to be a freak show), but after being coerced by longtime friend and former boxer Eddie “Scrap” Dupris (Morgan Freeman), Frankie takes the determined fighter under his wing.
Eastwood is fantastic as the film’s director, constructing a storybook of short scenes that validate the authenticity of the story, and by cutting them up into little pieces the audience isn’t subjected to long and monotonous sequences of pure dialogue or uncomfortable silence. The film still moves a bit slow at times when Eastwood puts the story aside and dedicates time for the development of his characters, but the boxing scenes give the film the quick rush of adrenaline that it needs to keep the audience interested. Still, as much as “Baby” seems like a sports film, it is also deeply rooted in the parallels to the characters’ human nature of how the sport affects the lives they lead.
Performance-wise, the film’s cast couldn’t be better, and although I never was a big fan of Eastwood’s acting style, it seems that his Dirty Harry days just might finally be over. Swank and Freeman both turn out wonderful performances as well and Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor awards for both actors wouldn’t be surprising. Eastwood’s direction of the film should be the main focus of Oscar night for the film, with an incredibly impeccable management of translating the F.X. Toole story on to the screen and treating a major studio release like an independent feature. There’s still time to brush up on your Academy Award trivia before the envelopes are torn open and the golden statues handed out, and “Million Dollar Baby” should be at the top of your list.
When picking up the "Million Dollar Baby" DVD the next time you go to the store, you may find yourself with a few more decisions than you were expecting, mainly because the film is available in three different versions: the two-disc widescreen and full screen versions, and the three-disc deluxe edition. Both box sets include the same material on the first two discs, including the film, a 25-minute roundtable with the film's three stars and James Lipton, the "Born to Fight" featurette, and a behind-the-scenes documentary with the producers of "Baby." The deluxe edition, which will probably cost a little more, includes a third disc that features the original film score. Now, while this may not seem like a lot to some people, the inclusion of the soundtrack and the word "deluxe" are more than enough to excite the DVD aficionados looking to add this box set to their ever-growing collection.