2004 • Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar BabyFresh off the LOTR trilogy, I was more than ready to get back into some non-fantasy movies. Sunday night we got right back into our project with 2004’s Clint Eastwood boxing drama, Million Dollar Baby. Neither of us had ever seen it before, but I was well aware of the much-spoofed scene involving Hilary Swank falling onto the stool.

For the second time in the last 13 Best Pictures, Eastwood and Morgan Freeman teamed up. The last time we saw them together was in the 1992 western classic Unforgiven. This time around, they aren’t out murdering folk; instead, they’re coaching boxers at a run-down gym in Los Angeles in what I assume is the present-day, though there is little evidence of the precise time period.

When female boxer Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) starts showing up to the gym, Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) casts her aside, but Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupris (Freeman) takes an interest. Since she had paid her dues to the gym, Frankie eventually gives her a chance. She starts fighting and turns out to be unbeatable. Frankie, who isn’t on good terms with his only daughter, begins to develop a father-like relationship with Maggie, who is earning quite a nice share of winnings and winds up in the world championships. But what happens when a cheap shot at Maggie ruins her career and leaves her paralyzed?

The movie was basically two halves—the feel-good tale of Maggie’s rags-to-riches boxing success, and then dealing with her life-threatening injury. All the while we see Frankie’s relationship with Maggie develop to the point where he is more family to her than her true family, who only comes to visit her after first stopping at Disneyland. Scrap Iron narrates throughout the movie, and we discover at the end that his narration is a letter to Frankie’s estranged daughter Katie, showing her what kind of a man Frankie really was.

I guess I can sum up Million Dollar Baby in one word—depressing. It’s such a feel-good female version of Rocky at first, but by the end of the movie everything good is long gone and we’re left with Maggie in a dark hospital room hooked up to machines being visited only by Frankie. Million Dollar Baby is highlighted not only by great acting from all three leads, but I thought the use of lighting (or lack thereof) and music really helped set the mood for the whole movie.

This movie has the same kind of ending as The Deer Hunter or maybe even Terms of Endearment in that it’s such a grim ending. We’re much less happy than when the movie began. I read that the ending was controversial; lots of people wanted to see Maggie live and thrive despite her injuries, but instead Frankie helps her end her suffering. Clint Eastwood said “I’ve gone around in movies blowing people away with a .44 magnum. But that doesn’t mean I think that’s a proper thing to do”.

Good movie overall, though not quite what I imagined coming in. Probably will rank somewhere in the upper half. Next up, 2005’s Crash, a movie I have heard very few good things about, but I’ll try to go in open-minded.

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