FBMR - Million Dollar Baby
Film-Buff Movie Reviews


In all honesty, I didn’t have a strong desire to see this film until the 2004 Oscar nominations came out. I’d heard that it was a great film, but something about it didn’t do it for me. Then again, I didn’t know much about it other than the fact that it involved boxing … a sport I’m not terribly keen on. Although the nice thing about this film is that it focused more on the strategy and technique behind boxing than the actual violence, even though there are several knock-out sequences (pun intended).

Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is a boxing trainer and a gym owner … a gym frequented by talented young boxers, as well as a lanky goof named “Danger” (Montrealer Jay Baruchel) who pours his heart into training, but has absolutely no ability. Frankie’s been in the business many, many years and is highly respected as a trainer, but is also sometimes over-cautious when it comes to taking his boxers to title fights. He wants them to be ready, but sometimes they get impatient and leave him just prior to making it big. Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) is a waitress by day and an up-and-coming boxer every other hour of the day and night. She, however, is not only much older than most up-and-comers, but she doesn’t have a lot of training or proper technique, either. Maggie approaches Frankie after a fight and asks if he can train her. He flat-out refuses. He doesn’t train girls. But she doesn’t give up. When she shows up at the gym and starts working out, and even pays six months worth of dues, Frankie still refuses to train her, although she does get some pointers from Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman), a long-time friend of Frankie’s who helps manage the gym. Finally, having been worn down, Frankie agrees to be her trainer, and makes a fine fighter out of her … but that’s only the beginning.

Now, on the surface, this seems a rather ordinary story. But the skeletons in the closets add texture to the story and to the relationships. Frankie has a daughter to whom he writes every week, and every following week receives said letter marked “returned to sender”. Maggie’s father has passed away, her older brother is in prison, and her mother is scamming welfare. Yet, it isn’t until we meet her family do we get the full picture of just how despicable some people can be, especially to family. Frankie and Maggie develop a very real, a very endearing father-daughter relationship, which makes the latter part of the film that much more gut-wrenching.

I truly believe that no villains are more effective than undermining, deceitful, greedy, and mean-for-the-sake-of-being-mean humans. Aliens, monsters, ghosts aren’t real (at least I haven’t met any), and although they can be the “villain” in a story, they can’t convey the same emotional reaction from an audience that a truly mean-spirited person can. And the villains in this film had me clenching my fists and demanding revenge.

This film has very aggressive lighting: casting shadows, lighting only parts of a scene or parts of a face. I found it bothersome at first, but then grew to appreciate it and try to understand why a scene was lit in that fashion … how did it make me feel? It was very effective. I also wasn’t expecting it to be as funny as it was, especially the first half, with the crusty banter exchanged between Frankie and Eddie. Some of those moments were gems. And on the other hand, later in the film, the audience is also witness to Frankie’s struggle with a moral, ethical, and religious dilemma. I honestly don’t know what I would do in the same situation. It’s not an easy decision, and my heart felt almost as heavy as Frankie’s when he made his choice.