Million Dollar Baby
starring Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Anthony Mackie, Jay Baruchel, Mike Colter, Lucia Rijker, Brian O’Byrne, Margo Martindale, Riki Lindhome and Michael Pena
written by Paul Haggis
directed by Clint Eastwood
Against his first wishes, crusty, cranky and old Gym owner, Frankie Dunn, takes on a 31-year-old Maggie Fitzgerald to train as a boxer. She’s a natural and goes all the way to the Women’s Middle Weight title fight against the German world champion, Billie “The Blue Bear” (Lucia Rijker) when the dream of a champion’s belt collapses.
Based upon stories from the book Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner by F.X. Toole (1930 – 2002), Million Dollar Baby (2004) is another great boxing movie that you can buy and put in your video library next to Robert DeNiro’s Raging Bull (1980, with Cathy Moriarty and Joe Pesci, directed by Martin Scorsese), and Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky(1976, with Burgess Meredith, Carl Weathers and Talia Shire, directed by John. G. Avildsen). I don’t like Hilary Swank, which is why I waited a long time to see this movie. But it was great, and I enjoyed it. I am especially impressed with Clint Eastwood’s talent and range of skill in all the elements of movie making. I was surprised that he is even given a Music credit in this film because he composed the theme “Blue Morgan.” His son, Kyle, also arranged music for the film, and his granddaughter, Morgan, has a cameo as the “Little Girl in Truck.” “Blue Morgan” sounds like it was written for one of Eastwood’s old westerns. It is a simple tune, a single guitar slowly plucking a repeating, melancholy melody. It made me think of lonely cowboys in the old west at the end of a hard day driving cattle, huddling around the chuckwagon and the pot of hot coffee on the fire; too tired and too illiterate to read anything, not the sort of fellows to chat with their co-workers and not really sure how to play the guitar, either.
The boxing choreography is good, arranged by the Boxing Technical Advisors Dan Familton, Lucia Rijker (who appears in the film as the World Women’s Middleweight Champion), Hector Roca, and “Boxing” Don R. Dinkins. But the thing about boxing choreography in boxing films is that it never looks like the real thing. There is more punching in movie boxing than there is in real boxing, and fights in the movies go way beyond the point at which ring doctors would stop a real fight.
Of particular interest to me was the use of shadows in this movie. The effect was excellent, and it could even have been filmed in black-and-white to good effect.
It is interesting to compare Clint Eatwood’s Frankie Dunn with Rocky Balboa’s trainer and manager, Mickey (Burgess Meredith). Horrible old men that I would hate in real life making a subsistence living as near-bankrupt businessmen in stinky, dirty gyms - nothing like the pristine, corporate sports clubs so popular today (like Ben Stiller’s gym, Globo Gym, in Dodgeball, or the new Sportsplex near my apartment).
My favorite line comes in the first few minutes when Frankie rejects outright Maggie’s first approach, asking him to train her:
“People who see me say I’m tough.”
“Girlie, tough ain’t enough.” Which is probably correct, because being a good boxer is not about being the heaviest, or the strongest hitting guy. It’s about being the best fighter, which is a technical matter. A boxer is more concerned with hitting his opponent well than hard, because boxing is a sport won on points as well as by knockout.
My favorite parts of the film were not the boxing scenes so much as the scenes between Frankie and his priest, Father Horvak (Brian O’Byrne). Frankie is tormented by demons centering around his estranged daughter. Frankie’s past is never explained, and
whatever his demons are they drive him to attend daily Mass after which he regularly baits his priest with deliberately obtuse questions about Christian mysteries like the Trinity and the Immaculate Conception.