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A movie that will last
5/10 "Million Dollar Baby" has great characters, but it doesn't glorify them. It has a wonderful story, but it never tries to impress you. The photography, score and direction is superb, but never distracting. What this movie is, if I have to call it something, is passion. Passion for film-making, passion for storytelling, passion for its characters, passion for its actors, and passion for its story and the means at which it will go to tell it. Amazing.5 years ago
Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) owns a messy boxing gym which is populated, mostly, by downbeat losers who he spends some time training. He runs it with his friend and former student Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris (Morgan Freeman), who now lives contently at a room in the gym. One day a young woman named Maggie (Hilary Swank) walks in, looking for a manager and trainer. Frankie shafts her immediately ("girly, tough ain't enough"). Frankie has bigger things on his hands. He's managing a fighter who has a shot at a title bout.
But Frankie is old and weathered and not an appealing manager, so the fighter leaves him. Frankie is broken by this; it is another in a long line of rejections and separations. We can tell that, at this time in his life, he only gets really close with those he's training (Scrap is the only exception). We can tell that his loneliness and a bit of persuasion from Scrap cause him to agree to teach Maggie. Teach, that is the agreement, not manage. But, by the end of the film he will have devoted his life to her.
So the rest of the story follows these two people. There is no real 'plot' that you could describe in a trailer because it is constantly changing it is not the inspiring underdog story you may think of it as. No, what it's 'about' is these characters, and how they react to the circumstances around them, which change with each scene.
Narrating the story is Scrap, speaking like he's looking back to a time long ago when everything has passed. His voice seems flat, deadpan, but there is a working of subtle sorrow in it. Scrap is a sad human being, he sees himself as the result of missed opportunities in the past, and so he spends his time helping the others, offering them his wise advice, with a tone of deadpan humor and even cockiness. Scrap knows what should be done, and what will happen regardless, and he is sort of okay with everything, in a sort of passive way. But the man also knows what's right and he has a deep, inner strength which is displayed in one scene in particular where you just have to cheer. It is an intriguing character, and personally I think it's Freeman's best performance.
And Eastwood's best too. He is an elderly man; some might say too elderly to still be working. After all, most people are retired by his age. But if you had to guess when you're watching this film, you would never, ever say the man is seventy-four. You would say something closer to the sixties, because the man has such amazing energy and dedication, and above all, he has talent. It's been forty long years since "A Fist Full of Dollars" and film has come a long way, and so has this man. At seventy-four, passed all those years as an action hero, nearing what's could be the end of his career, Eastwood has made his best movie. I really, really hope he has time to make many more.
As for Swank, well, she must have found something big that she shared with her character, because this is not acting, it is existing. Swank is Maggie. That's all there is too it. This could be the movie she will be remembered for.
So, "Million Dollar Baby" is a masterpiece. I saw it last night when it opened in my city, and everyone else was seeing "White Noise", and I was shaking my head. Everyone who is even remotely interested in movies should see this one, just so they can know how movies are supposed to be made. I'm trying to think, and there is not a single thing here where Eastwood went wrong. The acting, directing, writing, score, cinematography they all accomplish precisely what they're supposed to with sublime perfection. Many of these aspects will certainly receive Oscars and all of them should.
You may cry through this film, you may cheer. Whatever the case, you will love it.
Loved The Ride
5/10 Million Dollar Baby is a movie about boxing like Braveheart is a movie about men in kilts riding horses. What it is is a movie to experience if you find yourself ever entertaining thoughts about loyalty, determination, talent, no talent, age, youth, courage, fear, fate, and the pain and joy of both living and dying.5 years ago
I read reviews of Million Dollar Baby and expected to like it. Roger Ebert can be soft on movies because he is plainly a big fan, but even he does not lightly toss around the M-word, masterpiece. Yet he drops it on MDB, and justly so. The story is simple and searing. A gal (Hilary Swank) with much heart and no experience aspires to be the champion of the world. She is Rocky in a sports bra. A grizzled fight trainer-manager/gym owner (Clint Eastwood) reluctantly takes her on. His best pal and wise-man assistant (Morgan Freemna) stands alongside them, as the plot unwinds steadily, seamlessly, picking up speed, scene by scene, act after act. Eastwood and Freeman are artists at the top of their profession and they, along with the brilliant Swank, present you the very worthy lives of three people you will care about and remember. The arena is boxing, but it might as well have been boating or baking. It is a story about values and truths that far exceed sports and movies. I walked into the Lowes Lincoln Square theater last night knowing Million Dollar Baby was taking me on a ride and willing to hop aboard. What a beautiful, memorable ride it was.
Sure to be a contender for the Academy's Best Picture of the Year
5/10 Saw "Million Dollar Baby" in Manhattan last night. Clint Eastwood, one of the all-time most famous actors -- and directors -- has more than enough money where he could choose to pull the strings on block-buster, mindless action pictures, ala Jerry Bruckheimer, or comic books. Or, hell, in his twilight years he could just lay back and enjoy his millions. But no. He has chosen instead to make quieter, lower-budget, heart-felt, character driven films like "The Unforgiven" "True Crime" "Mystic River" and now Million Dollar Baby. And the world is a better place for it. Eastwood uses his multiple talents to make films that have something valuable to say. In the emotionally powerful, Million Dollar Baby, he tells an allegorical tale of boxing to subtly express themes of hope, redemption, sacrifice, persistence, and belief in one's self. The movie emphasizes that failure is a more honorable and personally fulfilling trait than never having tried, while also frowning upon laziness and leeching off others. But see the movie and judge for yourself. I personally consider great films as the ones where I leave the theater with a better understanding of human nature, or a desire to improve the world by even a little bit. Eastwood's latest more than succeeds on those counts.5 years ago
Best boxing film since "Raging Bull"?
5/10 Clint Eastwood is a man of faith. He is an artist who is confident and experienced enough to have a deep faith in the audience that he is trying to reach. He is also a master of omission, of the left-out detail/line, trusting in his gut that his audience is willing to participate in his films by exercising their imaginations; that they never want any aspect of the story to be 'dumbed-down' for ready consumption. In fact, his trust in the audience to use their own minds to fill in gaps is like a gift of part ownership in the film. "Million Dollar Baby" is a beautiful gift, and a masterpiece if film-making.5 years ago
Eastwood plays Frankie Dunn, an elder boxing coach, manager, and expert 'cut man' who runs a gym and is learning Gaelic on the side. He's a nice enough guy, but he can't seem to shake the guilt from ghosts in his past (some we're in on, some not quite). His guilt/shame is a constant just beneath the surface and gives him something of a cold exterior, sometimes frozen. Yet, as played by Eastwood, you know Dunn's aware of his own plight, but just doesn't know how to melt the ice. Or more importantly, if he's deserving of such a meltdown.
Enter Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank). She's a thirty-something trailer trash woman from southwest Missouri. An unlikely hero for sure. But for my money, Maggie is this generation's Rocky. That may seem an easy, simplistic, and over-reaching comparison, but the parallels are deep, obvious and myriad. Like many people, Maggie's dream (being a professional boxer) is always just out of reach, yet she cannot give it up. She works as a waitress to make ends meet (or at least the ends are almost touching), but spends all her spare time training. Like Dunn, Maggie has her own ghosts haunting her, and through these ghosts they bond tighter than super glue. The heart and work (incalculably huge amounts) that Swank put into becoming Maggie are unnoticeable. It's a silly phrase but it's as if she was born to play this part. It fits like a glove. The real life parallel of her relationship to Eastwood no doubt played a part in her ability to connect with the character's relationship to Dunn. Yet this in no way diminishes her accomplishment. She is brilliant.
Morgan Freeman plays Dunn's right-hand man (Scrape) at the gym, and reprises a role similar to Red from "Shawshank Redemption". He also voices the omniscient narration to the story, a la Red. Like Dunn and Maggie, he's similarly bruised, but somehow less deeply. He's there when both of them need support and helps to bring them together. I can think of nobody acting in film today who can embody kindness and wisdom through friendship and support better than Freeman. He also serves to bring in another Eastwood trademark 'Banter'. Even when themes are heavy, Eastwood's sense of humor is never entirely absent and he and Freeman have a good time with each other, as did Bacon and Fishburne in "Mystic River". These three characters together create a beautiful and true, albeit small, family unit Eastwood's lifelong themes and 'blurring of lines' are on full display: good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, the role of violence, redemption, guilt/shame over previous acts, even god and death. Never one for easy answers, his version of the truth lies in the shadows, quite literally. Cinematographer Tom Stern crafts characters in shadow, shifting in and out of light. There is a grey area between the light and the dark where something approaching truth lies waiting, and this is where Eastwood takes us, then leaves us there to ponder. "Million Dollar Baby" is a shadow play. As accomplished as "Unforgiven" and "Mystic River", yet even more personal, this film is a triumph of human storytelling. As Bacon's character says in "Mystic River", " and the hits just keep on comin'."
It's a knockout ...
10/10 Flawlessly written, acted and directed, MILLION DOLLAR BABY is being hymned and wreathed by the critics as the best film of 2004. They're absolutely right. "An old master's new masterpiece," the NEW YORK TIMES said in a review that was more of an open love letter to Eastwood than anything remotely resembling a critical analysis of the film itself. For once such honey-tongued critical adulation is fully merited. Dark, edgy, subtle and at times emotionally devastating, MILLION DOLLAR BABY represents the apotheosis of Eastwood's art - the most lucid and intelligently limned expression of his philosophy of the outsider, the noble loners whose personal codes of honour set them both above and apart from the compromised, corrupt societies they inhabit. The Boxing Ring As Metaphor For Life is a hoary trope almost as old as Hollywood itself, employed to varying effect in films as diverse as THE CHAMP, GOLDEN BOY, REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT, THE GREAT WHITE HOPE, FAT CITY, ROCKY and RAGING BULL. In MILLION DOLLAR BABY, though, Eastwood the director brings a fresh eye and an entirely fresh approach to both the setting and characterisations, virtually re-inventing this venerable sub-genre rather than simply recycling its conventions. Eastwood the actor is in fine form - a commanding if increasingly weather-beaten presence - as gym owner Frankie Dunn. A case study in loneliness, Dunn's creased face is a map of places you'd rather not go to and disappointment has clearly been a life-long companion. Co-stars Hilary Swank and the magnificent Morgan Freeman, playing Frankie's unlikely protegee Maggie Fitzgerald and friend "Scrap-Iron" Dupris, give what are without question the best performances of their respective careers: deftly underplayed, their roles provide emotionally overwhelming impacts more powerful than anything glimpsed in the film's riotous fight sequences. Forming an iron triangle forged from mutual dependence, Dunn and Dupris school the impulsive but untutored Maggie in both the techniques of boxing and the tradecraft of survival in a world pre-disposed to pulverise individualism. The canvas-floored square ring becomes the arena in which all three characters confront their various demons, battling for both victory and personal redemption. Paul Haggis' screenplay is itself a masterwork, improving on its source material without betraying the concise but compelling situations and superbly drawn characters found in F.X. Toole's short stories. And, finally, Eastwood the composer's elegiac but unobtrusive score is a minor classic of its kind, a requiem to both lost souls and lost causes. MILLION DOLLAR BABY is not only the best film released in 2004 it is also the most fully realised and richly textured major studio movie of the decade.5 years ago