FilmTagger : Film Reviews and Similar Movies

‘Million Dollar Baby’ Movie Review

‘Million Dollar Baby’ Movie Review

Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood excel in this towering sports drama.

Clint Eastwood stars and directs this motion picture which is – above all else – a heartbreaking story about human endeavor. Once in awhile, a movie is made which dispenses with all contemporary fads, avoids trying to include all the latest stylistic references and effets-du-jour, and just plain tells a great story. “Million Dollar Baby” is just such a film, and will be recognized as such at this year’s Oscars.

In “Mystic River”, Eastwood tried to create a tapestry of characters and sub-plots intermingling with one another in a gritty slice of small-town America with a dark history. Here, he instead returns to what he knows best: examining the nuance of human relationships. As such, the character count is way down. Where Mystic River largely failed because of its sheer ambition and loftiness, MDB succeeds all the more for its three central performances.

Eastwood plays Frankie, an ailing cut-man who runs a classic-style boxing gym in the suburbs of Los Angeles. When his latest protégé is pinched by a local manager and catapulted into the big-time, it looks like all that Frankie has left to look forward to is reading Gaelic novels in his run-down office. A daily church-goer, Frankie torments the Catholic parish priest after every mass, in a side-story that is at once surprising and moving in its ultimate relevance.

The gym’s janitor – Scrap – is also Frankie’s best friend, and is played by Morgan Freeman. Formerly a boxer himself, Scrap suffered a bad beating in his last title bout, causing him to lose the use of his left eye. Frankie was ring-side that night, and was tortured over the decision to leave Scrap in the fight for the next round. As such, Scrap is a constant reminder to Frankie of just what is at stake in the game. And there, really, is the setup for the entire film. Frankie is a man with deep inner scars that may never heal.

Enter Maggie – a white-trash transplant from Missouri with nothing but a pair of gloves and a pocketful of dreams. She waits tables to earn enough for her gym dues, and begins working out at the gym night and day. At first, Frankie laughs off her hopeful requests to become his student. “I don’t train girlies”, he constantly reminds both Maggie and the audience.

But with gentle prodding from Scrap and the recent exit of his latest trainee from the scene, Frankie eventually comes round to the idea. And so, on Maggie’s 32nd birthday, they agree to give it a shot. And here is a scene which demonstrates Eastwood’s superb ability to portray the tragedy and joy of the human condition. Maggie spends the night of her birthday alone, struggling pathetically to hit a speedball in the gym. As Frankie approaches her in a dimly lit corner of the warehouse, we are overwhelmed with a sense of sadness for this woman. She has nothing. And yet, she ends up receiving from her idol the gift that she wants more than anything in the world – a chance to shine.

Eastwood himself is on fine form. As understated as he has ever been, he is totally convincing as the ailing Frankie – a man who is still seeking his dream, but is slowly being eaten away by inner daemons. Eastwood is, of course, one of the great modern-day icons of movie history. It is hard to forget we are watching a legend, and yet here more than in almost any other role, his laid-back delivery and subtle intonations are hugely effective.

Freeman, as Scrap, reprises his role as the film’s narrator – a duty he administered to such poetic effect in Rababond’s “The Shawshank Redemption”. Once more, everything about Freeman’s performance is in the right place. A patient observer of the gym’s daily ebb-and-flow, Scrap seems to be grandfather to the family of characters playing out their lives above the canvas.

But central honors go to Swank, who in her role as Maggie gives nothing short of a jaw-dropping performance in every respect. She is more than up to the task of convincing us that she can box (and box HARD!). Swank infuses her every scene with impressive vitality and gravitas. Lines that would make us shake our heads in embarrassment if delivered by almost any other Hollywood leading-lady instead utterly charm us into identifying with Maggie’s plight. And what a plight it becomes.

The screenplay is simple, but effective. Peppered with many humorous moments, the movie essentially reduces to several key conversations between the film’s central characters. The subject of some of these dialogues may seem trite and off-subject, but they all build towards Eastwood’s central goal – to draw us into the lives of three real people.

A film of two halves (three thirds, really), many will guess where the story will lead us for the final denouement. And yet when it happens, the moment will traumatize all but the most soul-less viewer. Here is a story that is genuinely tragic and shattering. In a key moment, as the movie approaches its climax, Maggie utters something almost unintelligible to a keenly-listening Scrap. She is talking about Frankie, who is just down the hallway. Although we have trouble making out her garbled words, we already KNOW what she is saying. And the reality is utterly devastating.

For all its simplicity and joy, “Million Dollar Baby” is made all the more of a slam-dunk by a final venture into genuinely controversial subject matter. The temptation to sensationalize at this point must have been strong. However, Eastwood insists on keeping an even keel, and plays the story out in a way that is hugely satisfying, despite the enormous implications of the choices being made.

Violent and shocking in more than one scene, this is quite simply a must-see movie – yes, even for the squeamish. The cringe-worthy moments in the film are only made so because we have identified so strongly with the central characters. Don’t believe the hype: amongst the inevitable fast-paced thrillers in this year’s line-up, here is one entirely more cerebral drama that will have you gripping the arm-rests to the end – for all the right reasons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe: rss | email | twitter