Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is a veteran boxing trainer who has never had a boxer in a title match. He isn’t fond of training women, either. But when his best friend, Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman), insists on training the persistent Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), Frankie takes her under his wing. Working together, Frankie and Maggie work towards their dreams of a championship, forging an unbreakable bond in the process.
Every once in a while a movie comes along that leaves an impression on you long after the credits have rolled. For me that was Million Dollar Baby. I first saw this more recently, even though it came out way back in 2004. It’s too bad I didn’t see it sooner because I had no idea what I was missing.
Million Dollar Baby is a movie about boxing, but it doesn’t follow the conventions of other boxing movies, or at least the last act doesn’t. This film starts off like similar movies, showing the rise of the boxer, their training, and some of their matches. But something happens that catches you (or at least me) by surprise and really changes the tone of the whole movie. It’s in these final thirty minutes or so that have some of the best character moments in the entire film.
Easily the strongest aspect of this film is how well the characters are fleshed out. Over the course of the movie, we learn a great deal about Frankie, Maggie, and Eddie. And not just their backstories, but who they are as people and the motivations behind their actions. By the end of the Million Dollar Baby, I felt a relationship with the characters that I don’t usually get when watching a movie.
There is not one bad performance in this movie. Eastwood is normally known for more action-oriented roles, but he does phenomenal in this quieter role. He just seems to get better and better as he’s grown older. Freeman is always great in any role he plays and I am a fan of a Freeman voiceover. The biggest surprise was Swank. Granted, I haven’t seen very many of her movies, but after watching this one, I look forward to watching her again. Even the lesser seen supporting cast, like Anthony Mackie and Jay Baruchel were great.
I have mentioned before how much a good score can add to a movie. Usually it’s very big and dramatic, but the score of Million Dollar baby is much more subdued and simple. The score, surprisingly composed by Eastwood, is still dramatic, but in a different fashion. It consists mostly of a single acoustic guitar or piano that is very much in line with the feel of the movie but it is every bit as emotional as the full orchestral scores.
Cinematography isn’t something I normally bring up, but I would have a hard time talking about this movie with discussing about the cinematography. There is a great use of shadows and lighting. During the boxing matches, the camera gets close to the action, but too close that you can’t see much. It’s really great work that I think few movies can compare to.
I missed Million Dollar Baby when it was released in 2004 and when I finally did see it, I regretted not seeing it sooner. The characterization is brilliantly written and it’s easy to become invested in the characters and their struggles. It is hard to pick a stand out performance because every actor was fantastic, even the supporting cast. A simple but fitting score and top notch cinematography enhance the experience even further. If you want a movie that has great acting, excellent characterization, and superb cinematography, then Million Dollar Baby is the movie for you.
Cast & Crew
Clint Eastwood – Director
Paul Haggis – Screenplay
F.X. Toole – Stories from Rope Burns
Clint Eastwood – Composer
Clint Eastwood – Frankie Dunn
Hilary Swank – Maggie Fitzgerald
Morgan Freeman – Eddie Dupris
Anthony Mackie – Shawrelle Berry
Jay Baruchel – Danger Barch
Brian F. O’Byrne – Father Horvak
Margo Martindale – Earline Fitzgerald
Michael Pena – Omar