Million Dollar Baby - Clint Eastwood's Sentimental Masterpiece

                       Everybody's got a particular number of fights in him. Nobody tells you what that number is." --Morgan Freeman, "Million Dollar Baby"

                       By now, you’ve already heard all about “Million Dollar Baby” - that it’s Clint Eastwood’s best film; that it is one of the greatest sports flick; that it features award-worthy performances; that it is, simply, an amazing movie experience. 

                        If you haven't heard anything about this movie, then trust me everything mentioned above is true. It has a winning combination of gentle humor, compassion, zeal, intensity, and, in the end, a whole lot of pathos. Million Dollar Baby is the best, not because it is the most ambitious or even the most original. On the contrary: it is a quiet, intimately scaled three-person drama directed in a patient, easygoing style, without any of the displays of allusive cleverness or formal gimmickry that so often mask as important film-making these days. It’s a film about acceptance, forgiveness, and, most of all, redemption. Clint Eastwood places a admittedly sentimental story in a hardened context, and makes it seem all the more genuine and touching.

        Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) is a rotten Catholic and an over-cautious boxing manager who's never enjoyed a title shot. He runs a dilapidated gym with longtime pal Eddie Scrap (Morgan Freeman), who lost sight in one eye after being savaged in the ring. Frankie's life hstory is revealed in narration from Scrap, who also introduces us to Danger Barch (Jay Baruchel), whose nickname is purely ironic. It is both Frankie's and Scrap's nature to encourage Danger's boxing ambitions while being clever enough to never let him anywhere near a real fight.

                Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) is a waitress in her early thirties. She has left her welfare-cheating mother, nasty siblings and grim past for something hopeful. She's got that dream and the willpower. So she joins Frankie Dunn's gym hoping to persuade Frank (Eastwood) to be her trainer. He refuses, so she hangs around the gym, receiving help from Scrap.

                Frankie is managing Big Willie (Mike Colter), a contender, but has refused to put him in the ultimate prizefight until he's ready. But the boxer leaves Frank for another manager. He takes another look at Maggie, beating with determination at the punching bag. Eventually Frankie agrees to help Maggie, and their growing affection for each other and teamwork becomes a powerful combination.

               "Million Dollar Baby" is three movies in one. The first part of the movie is sweet, amiable, easy going; the middle part is tough, gritty, and exciting; and the final part gets very weighty and a tearjerker. We travel with three characters along these episodes, whom we grow to love. The two icons of silver screen manages to make them look like a common man, not an easy task considering the popularity of both. I've also run out of adjectives to describe the eternally effortless coolness of Mr. Clint Eastwood. He's an old-fashioned movie star, he's the old-school-style director of consistently fascinating films, and he still exudes a screen presence that's nothing short of magnetic.

                   As an actor, Eastwood slips on Frankie's persona like a favorite old suit. As a director, he takes his time telling the tale, knowing that rushing things would only get in the way. His pacing is deliberate, his use of slower rhythms a firm sign of trust in and understanding of his material - anything fancy would only get in the way here. If Frankie's (Eastwood) relationship with Swank's Maggie is the heart-breaker, his banter with Freeman's Eddie is the movie's greatest pleasure. Freeman narrates the story in a voice-over one could listen to all by itself. Is there really anybody in movies with a better voice than Morgan Freeman? It's so wholesome, warm, friendly, strong, and reassuring. 

                  Hilary Swank takes a leading role that could have been ruined by overplaying, and instead takes a low-key approach, the result being a character that feels entirely natural. On the page, Maggie could seem like a clueless and desperate little girl, but Swank infuses Maggie with so much heart and earthy character. One of the movie's most effective scenes involves Maggie's triumphant return to her hometown, which is ruined by her mom's small-mindedness.

                 Paul Haggis' script is based on the gritty stories of F.X. Toole, who was himself a boxer. The screenplay is lean and sincere, even when the narrative trajectory shifts in final third, bringing the film to an entirely different level that allows for a moment of crucial decision making that leads to unexpected transcendence, the kind that stays with you for a long time. Cinematographer Tom Stern's approach is both visually spare and emotionally intoxicating.

                 Beginning with this paragraph, there are some spoilers. Viewers who like fresh and pure movie experiences should proceed at their own risk. In "Million Dollar Baby,"  there's less glamorization of the ring activity than often occurs in boxing movies. For Maggie, winning isn't about fame and making money - it's about earning respect and loyalty. Boxing is her way to escape her past. And she remains true to her gruff coach, even when a hot-shot manager offers to take over her career and help her into the big time. Had this been all that Million Dollar Baby is about, it would have been a solid motion picture: heartfelt if somewhat unremarkable.

                But the film takes an unexpected turn in its third act, and ends up asking some tough questions: What shows more heart - to help a loved one to die with dignity, or to offer support to ease the pain of what they view as a valueless existence? Eastwood demands much from the audience as he emphasizes the difficulties of either path. The part, where Maggie is bedridden is sad and may not lift your spirits, but it will definitely move you.

                In the final segments of the "Million Dollar Baby," Eastwood explores the redemptive power of love which happens when a person sets aside self-interest and serves another without regard for the consequences. It is a rich and challenging movie that both affirms life and emphasizes its fragility. Every scene, every action and reaction, every performance just shines of film-making care and craftsmanship. Even if you think you don't like boxing or sports films, you must see this one for the beauty of its relationships and to appreciate what Eastwood has wrought.


Clint Eastwood Winning Oscar For 'Best Director'
Million Dollar Baby - IMDb


Neha said...

Even as I read your lovely review, the scenes from the movie kept playing in my head and I was again reminded of Maggie's ambitions and her triumph when she wins match after match and just like that, in just an instant everything vanishes from her reach. I have watched the movie twice and each time it took me all my will power to sit through the end without crying my eyes out. It's indeed a wonderful movie and Mr.Eastwood, Mr. Freeman and Hillary Duff have done exceptionally well. No words are enough to praise them and the movie.

Arun said...

@Neha, Thanks for the comment. Yeah, this is a genuinely emotional movie, with top class performances from three best actors.

Meoww said...

I cant handle teary endings, but i loved your review for giving me a beautiful overview of the oscar-winning movie.

Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

Million Dollar Baby is undoubtedly one of Clint's best films. Hilary Swank's best performance after 'Boys Don't Cry'. Loved your review :)

Rohu said...

Thank you..thank you.. thank you..most amazzzing!! :)

Arun said...

@Meoww, Thanks for the comment.

@Haricharan, Thank You.

@Rohu, Thanks for reading the post.

Ruchi S said...

One of his best works!