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Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Baby
Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Baby tells the story of three unforgettable people. There’s Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), a grizzled veteran boxing trainer with a past full of regret and sorrow, Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), a 30-something-year-old waitress that dreams of escaping a life of unhappiness and monotony, and Eddie “Scrap” Dupris (Morgan Freeman), the boxer who was trained by Frankie back in the day, who also loves the man who became his best friend and boss. What first appears to be a straightforward boxing tale eventually becomes one of the best films I’ve seen to relate deep love and the sacrifices it can sometimes entail.

The story begins with Frankie losing management of the next contender for the World Heavyweight Championship. Enter Maggie: a woman who desires to have Frankie train her because she knows he’s one of the best, and also because there’s just something about him that she likes. Unfortunately, Frankie wants nothing to do with her; she’s too old, too undisciplined, and she’s only ‘girly’ tough. Fortunately for Maggie, there’s Eddie to help change Frankie’s mind. As soon as Frankie accepts Maggie and begins to train her, he realizes how wrong he had been all along. When he kept refusing her in the past, he never knew her motivations. He never knew the desperation that Maggie lived with that forced her along this path. She confesses that without boxing, her life would degenerate to the point of hopeless oblivion. Frankie can relate.

Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank
As Maggie proves herself to be the Mike Tyson of women’s boxing, a bond slowly develops between her and Frankie. It is easy to tell that Frankie is beginning to love this sad sack of a girl, especially after he learns how she lives, and where she came from. There is a kinship that they share because, until they found each other, they were both utterly lost. Doesn’t quite sound like Rocky, does it? Well, it’s not. Boxing is really only a back-story about three lost souls that manage to achieve a semblance of grace and dignity, through hardship and hard work.

Clint Eastwood has directed a number of wonderful films. Lately, most of his films have turned towards bleaker things, but somewhere in the darkness there is usually light. Mystic River, for me anyway, was one of the most painful experiences I have ever had watching a film. Yet, there was a faint gleam of hope given to us at the end that at least some of the titular leads would be able to find some happiness again after they had lost so much. Million Dollar Baby doesn’t quite achieve that, but what it does achieve is much more poignant and utterly heart wrenching. I won’t go into detail about it, but assume that many puppies die along the way…it’s that sad.

There are so many things that are exceptional about this film, that I would have to write a review of an essay’s length in order to explain it all, so I’ll just keep it to a few points. One of the many things I liked about it is its slow pace as it wanders along developing the relationships between the three leads. There are conversations that seem to be
Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman
utterly meaningless in nature, but go a long way in informing us who these people really are, and what their life’s stories had taught them. Another thing that is wonderful are some of the ‘lesser’ characters introduced throughout the film. In particular, I enjoyed the presence of Brian O'Byrne as the Priest who tries to help Frankie with his regrets, but becomes so exasperated by him that all he can do is swear. The cinematography by Tom Stern is so subtle that it is easy to overlook as the work of a master, because it actually mimics real life. There are shadows and lights and everything in between, but nothing is where it doesn’t belong. Not many films even attempt such realism, which makes my respect for it reach even greater heights.

Other than the amazing performances by everyone in the film, what makes this film so extraordinary is the deep question it asks; is human sacrifice built from love more important than societies, or your own, ideas of morality. I won’t go into detail about how the film develops, and certainly not the ending (I might have said too much already), but I will say this: Million Dollar Baby achieves something that many films have attempted to do before, yet failed, or have only eluded to; it causes a person to look deep, very deep, into their own psyche and to beg it a question: “What price my soul?”

It is this, not quite by itself, which makes it a modern masterpiece.