Sunday, February 26, 2012

100 Movies - No. 59: Million Dollar Baby

59. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Drama, Sport, 132 minutes
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman

Boxing isn't a sport that I find appealing. I did follow the career of Muhummad Ali as a child, but haven't paid much attention since he retired. It's a brutal way to earn a living. I do admire people for the dedication it involves, but it's no longer something that I want to watch.

There have been several good boxing movies over the years, from Rocky and Raging Bull to Cinderella Man and The Fighter. Each of those movies attempted to show the character behind the gloves, and that's where my interest lies when I do watch a boxing movie. As a fan of Clint Eastwood, I was particularly interested to see whether he would bring a fresh perspective as he has done in films showing racism and war from unexpected viewpoints. He didn't disappoint me.

Million Dollar Baby depicts women's boxing and focuses on Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank). She thinks of herself as trash, works as a waitress to pay the bills, and often resorts to eating leftovers from the diner. She shows up at Frankie Dunn's (Eastwood) gym and begs him to train her. He refuses, so Eddie Dupris (Freeman) shows her a few techniques. Frankie eventually agrees to train her after seeing how dedicated she is. Boxing is her only hope of escaping her miserable existence.

Frankie has problems of his own and is trying to get in touch with his estranged daughter, so Maggie becomes an outlet for Frankie's fatherly affection in some ways. He soon sees what amazing character she has. She's not only determined to succeed, but is kind to her ungrateful family when she starts to earn decent money.

Eastwood deviates from the normal formula by showing some of the grim reality of the sport. Not every aspiring fighter succeeds and Freeman's character has to live with the loss of an eye after being injured in his 109th fight. The film shows the dangers of boxing and how cutthroat the business can be. The thing which elevates it is the realism and the delicate way Frankie and Maggie deal with adversity. I cared about these characters.

Million Dollar Baby lifted four Oscars. Eastwood was Best Director, Swank Best Actress and Freeman Best Supporting Actor. The Best Picture award was fully deserved and the final 30 minutes is extremely sad and difficult to watch. That said, I included this in my 100 movies series for a reason. It's another superb project from Eastwood and will be remembered as one of his best creations.

If you like Million Dollar Baby:

Of the other boxing movies I mentioned above, Rocky is the one I return to most often. It has strong characters and takes place in a similarly gritty setting, but the boxing element is much less realistic.

Many regard Scorsese's Raging Bull as the best movie of the 80s. I can't agree, but it's another that's worth your time if you enjoy stories about boxing. It's based on the life of Jake LaMotta and stars Robert De Niro.

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  1. This is one of the saddest movies I've ever seen! And when Jay Baruchel's character asks how do they get the ice inside the bottle... incredibly heartbreaking! I laughed so hard the other day when I read MDB described as "tragi-porn".

  2. Yes, it's very sad. I love her strength of character and how she deals with her mother at the end. It was good how Scrap tried to look after Danger as well.

  3. I just saw Million Dollar Baby. I guess I'm just one of the minority that doesn't see what all the fuss is about. It didn't tug at my heartstrings, or fully submerse me in their stories. I think the worst part for me was the supporting performances from Jay Baruchel as 'Danger' and Margo Martindale as Maggie's mother. They overacted in my opinion. BUT, most people would agree with your review.

    1. Yeah, it's impossible to agree on everything. I see we differ massively on Vicky Cristina Barcelona too. I quite often see movies that people rave about and wonder what they see that I don't.