Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: December 15, 2004
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Tom Stern
WRITER: Paul Haggis
MUSIC: Clint Eastwood
After making “Mystic River” in 2003, Eastwood would go on to direct what many consider to be another masterpiece with “Million Dollar Baby”. It really comes as no surprise considering that the film is a tight and gripping drama that once again shows off Eastwood’s considerable skills as a director. The only thing that the audience has to watch out for is that the film, like “Mystic” before it, is a darker film that has a couple of unexpected twists along the way.
The film is narrated by Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman). He talks about how Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) came and found Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), a washed-out boxing trainer who owns a gym that Eddie works at. Maggie wants to be trained by Frankie who refuses to train her because she is a woman.
Maggie is a waitress who is trying to make ends meet. The only time she feels alive is when she boxes. Over time, Maggie continues to train at the gym and Frankie eventually relents and becomes her trainer.
The biggest thing about the film is that on the outside, it appears that this film is going to be the new “Rocky”. As the film progresses, though, Eastwood gives the audience something deeper. He gives the audience a story about a father-and-daughter relationship between two people who have their own problems with their real families.
Maggie’s father is dead and her mother is nothing more than a leech on the welfare system that could care less about her daughter or her boxing aspirations. Frankie is a father who does not talk to his daughter and receives every letter back that he sends to her. Maybe it is this distant relationship that makes Frankie look at Maggie as an attempt at salvation, both inside and outside the ring.
Not only is Eastwood’s direction better than ever, so is his performance as Frankie. Eastwood has never been afraid to acknowledge his age or his flaws and this has never worked better for him than with his performance as Frankie. While the film won for Best Picture at the 2004 Academy Awards, it was a shame that Eastwood did not win for Best Actor. Still, when the choice is between Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles or Eastwood, the Academy made the right call. If only they could have given the award to both of them.
Another veteran actor who gives an astounding performance is Freeman. When a filmmaker needs an actor to narrate for their film, no one is better than Freeman. However, his performance as Eddie is an astounding sight to see. Not only is the character there to inform the audience but he also has his own back story and is a complete character. Just because he also acts as Frankie’s conscience does not mean that he isn’t human. The bottom line is that Freeman earned his award for Best Supporting Actor.
Then there is Swank, an actress that had already proven herself when she won the Academy in 1999 for her powerful performance in “Boys Don’t Cry”. Here, she proves again why she is one of this generation’s best actresses. One of the biggest flaws with actresses today is that they feel like they have to worry about being more beautiful on screen than talented.
Swank does not care about this. She understands that Maggie is a down-in-the-dumps waitress with only one passion that has nothing to do with her looks. Swank is fully committed to the role and she is yet another person who earned her Oscar.
Now, the film does take a sharp right turn. Most people know about this twist and the controversial ending. However, once someone sees what happens, it’s not hard to side with or at least consider the direction the film takes. Despite this controversial ending, Eastwood once again creates another interesting and character driven film with an astounding cast and a fantastic story that should not be missed.