Movie Review: “Million Dollar Baby”

“I got nobody but you, Frankie.”                 “Well, you’ve got me.”

Million_Dollar_Baby“Million Dollar Baby” tells the story of Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), a young woman who grew up in difficult circumstances whose dream is to become a professional boxer, and Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), an aging fight trainer and the owner of a rundown gym called the Hit Pit.  As the film opens, Maggie has decided that she needs professional training, and she pesters the unwilling Frankie incessantly until he agrees to take her under his wing.

Maggie turns out to be a natural – a phenomenon – and under Frankie’s guidance, compiles a record of knockouts that leads in short order to a bout for the world title.  The outcome of that fight leaves both of them facing terrible choices.  Maggie’s decision, while tragic, is understandable, and seems to come easily to her.  Frankie’s is far more difficult, and comes only after the most in-depth soul-searching.  Whatever you may think of their choices, at the film’s end, Maggie is at peace with her decision, and Frankie with his.

Hilary Swank gives an extraordinary performance as Maggie Fitzgerald, and fully deserved her 2005 Academy Award for Best Actress.  She looks like a boxer, but whether boxing or not, she is always convincing.  Morgan Freeman turns in his customary excellent performance as Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris, a former boxer and all-purpose maintenance man at the Hit Pit.  Clint Eastwood seems to have an infallible instinct for what roles he is suited for, and his performance as Frankie Dunn is compelling from beginning to end.  His work as director is equally assured.  The fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed, and could hardly be more realistic.  You can hear the fighters’ punches miss their target.  You can feel Maggie’s pain when Frankie realigns her broken nose.

“Million Dollar Baby” was written by Paul Haggis, whose writing credits include “Crash”, “Flags of Our Fathers”, and “Letters from Iwo Jima”.  I am tempted to say that “Million Dollar Baby” is perfect as written, but in fact it shares a weakness with another Eastwood film, “Gran Torino”: Although the film’s protagonists are all realistically and intriguingly multifaceted, the antagonists are surprisingly one-dimensional, and exhibit few if any redeeming qualities.  It’s hard to imagine a more detestable character than Maggie’s greedy, ungrateful, unloving mother.  Or consider Billie “The Blue Bear” Osterman, Maggie’s opponent in the climactic bout.  Not only is she introduced to us as a former prostitute and the dirtiest fighter in boxing, she looks like the very personification of evil.

Although this movie is rated PG-13 (“Parents are urged to be cautious.  Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.”), I would state unequivocally that “Million Dollar Baby” is not appropriate for pre-teenagers.  Of course, levels of sophistication vary from one child to another, but I wouldn’t recommend “Million Dollar Baby” to someone I didn’t know unless he or she was at least sixteen.

Derrick Robinson