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MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004)
"Million Dollar Baby" is a timeless tragedy about a jaded trainer who finally gives in and trains a dogged woman determined to make a name for herself in the sport of female boxing. With the longstanding support of fellow friend and former protege, the trainer relentlessly works towards shaping the woman into formidable force but all fairytales must come to an end.
Written by: F.X. Toole (stories) and Paul Haggis (screenplay).
Directed by: Clint Eastwood.
" Genre: Drama, Sport.
Best Picture Oscar Winner / Best Picture Index
Rated: PG13 for violence, some disturbing images, thematic material, and language.
Tagline: She would break down walls, and break your heart?
MILLION DOLLAR BABY is set presumably in contemporary time where Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) is an excruciatingly poor, thirty-one year old waitress working overtime to support her dysfunctional lower-class family. Between saving scraps and pulling back-to-back shifts Maggie manages to provide for her family as best she can; foregoing all personal comforts in the process. Still, 'serving' is not Fitzgerald's dream profession and in turn seeks help at a local boxing gym where former boxing extraordinaire Eddie 'Scrap-Iron' Dupris (Morgan Freeman) and his famous trainer, Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) spend their days running the ring and training would-be-male-boxing stars.
The last thing Dunn wants is a female around to stir up trouble in the gym; which is already abounding in the shape of the scrawny 'Danger' Barch (Jay Barauchel) and his many 'nemeses' out to undermine his relentless training efforts. Still, a little bit of a 'danger' herself, Maggie relentlessly pursues Dunn, seeking his training in exchange for hard earned cash. Out of shape and 'out of age', Maggie hardly fits the profile of a boxing protege, still she persists. Beginning a goofy-footed waitress, through hours of endless training Maggie quickly emerges in several months a formidable force with a deadly right hook. Much like "Raging Bull's" Jake La Motta, with one solid punch Maggie quickly K.O.'s her way to the top of the boxing world, and ironically, finds herself quickly out of business as other trainers continue to withhold their fighters from matching up against Maggie Fitzgerald in fear of their safety.
Between her sporadic fights and multiple training sessions Maggie begins to establish a close rapport with both Dupris and Dunn; particularly the latter who finds a way to make means of his estranged daughter through his newfound friendship with Maggie. Taking on the role of both trainer and parent Dunn begins to invest more than professionally in Maggie's future and constantly seeks to better her career in her good interest as a bit of a protective father-figure; warding off the likes of female boozing endorser Big Willie Little (Mike Colter), and other nefarious boxing-endorser aficionados. Despite his avid protests to take Maggie to the top Dunn begins to substantially invest, even scrapping personal funds to get Maggie her deserved fights and publicity.
Meanwhile Maggie is still pulling shifts as a waitress until her boxing status goes from so-so to superstar; all the while donating her hard earned funds to her undeserving and unthankful family. The climax of disregard for Maggie's hard work unveils itself in a thankless Earline Fitzgerald (Margo Martindale) and Mardell Fitzgerald (Riki Lindhome) snubbing their nose at their brand new house; purchased in cash by Maggie, for fear that the government will now revoke their financial support. A disheartened Maggie and enraged Dunn head back to the ring where Maggie will prepare to train for her upcoming fight against the notoriously formidable Billie 'The Blue Bear' (Lucia Rijker).
Known to have already permanently injured and killed some of her opponents, Blue Bear will be Maggie's toughest match yet; with the odds stacked against her favor. Still, Maggie, Dupris, and Dunn all work together to train Maggie into a perfected machine; Maggie leading the way the entire time. As Maggie steps into the ring donning her new 'robe', compliments of Dunn, she prepares to fight for her right to glory. But with 'Blue Bear's' nefarious reputation standing between Fitzgerald and fame it's only a matter of several rounds before her fate is forever written in the stars?
MILLION DOLLAR BABY is a knockout. It will sweep you off its feet and engage you emotionally, provoking audiences to emotionally invest in Fitzgerald's future as much as Dunn or Dupris. The film is outstanding and its clean cinematography and powerful score highlight its clean, action-packed, albeit classically humane tell that incorporates as much of a personal journey as it does a professional quest to glory. The classic tale of the orphan rising to fame takes shape in MILLION DOLLAR BABY as a contemporary icon; 'the boxer', through the unique character that is Maggie Fitzgerald. Hilary Swank is nothing short of fabulous, arguably flawless in her role. From her own personal hard work Swank physically prepped herself for the role to expose a ripped and svelte physique true to the look required to play a boxing pro. Moreover, her emotional artistry and dynamic acting skills, her powerful presence and uncanny combination of humility and unpretentious confidence combine to create a one-of-a-kind characterization for Maggie Fitzgerald that, had it been anyone else, arguably would never have succeeded. As one critic observed: '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.' Still, with Swank she doesn't simply succeed, she soars above expectation and requirements in her role as Maggie Fitzgerald; clearly deserving of her second Oscar honor bestowed upon her for her magnificent performance.
Likewise, Morgan Freeman simply astounds audiences with his disarming role as 'Scrap-Iron' Dupris. From his powerful monologues to his tragic tale, Freeman's character exudes the necessary warmth and humanism required to shed a hopeful light on the first half of the movie; his relentless humility and good grace help pave way for both Maggie's physical transformation, as well as the much-needed, evident psychological transformation of his counterpart, Frankie Dunn. Moreover his famous voice is the perfect timbre and cadence for the narrative that follows the film from beginning to end with that classic 'Freeman tone' that suggests of humble authority speaking of truths larger than the character he plays. That said, Freeman is simply a powerful force and like Swank, more than deserving of his Oscar honor for Best Supporting Actor. So too does Clintwood rise to the occasion and solidly portray the conflicted trainer/father figure Frankie Dunn, for which he was awarded an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
As one critic notes: '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.' Everything about the sets and the plot screams 'justice: hard work and dogged determination will prevail'. But just as there are glimmering moments of hope and truth, so too is there the inevitable presence of a dark tragedy underlying the slurry of success. With so much baggage on behalf of all the characters; Dupris, Dunn, and Fitzgerald, the film smacks of a tragic underpinning, and yet the audience wholly immerses themselves in the present success that sweeps up audiences in the 'fairytale' story that lends itself necessary and possible through Fitzgerald's relentless determination.
To call attention once more to the medium of the work, the film is a conglomerate of seamless editing, powerfully haunting scores, vivid performances, and pristine cinematography and set production: 'The acting, directing, writing, score, cinematography' they all accomplish precisely what they're supposed to with sublime perfection?. There is no wondering as to why this film was a success at the 2005 Oscars; running away with 4 of its 7 nominations. From tragedy to triumph and back again the film?s cyclical narrative encompasses the entire spectrum and breadth of human emotion through the lens of three distinctly powerful and memorable characters; united by the impressionable force that is Maggie Fitzgerald.
MILLION DOLLAR BABY was the proud recipient of 4 Oscars: Best Achievement in Directing (Clint Eastwood), Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by a Supporting Actor; Male (Morgan Freeman), Best Performance by an Actress; leading (Hilary Swank). In addition, MILLION DOLLAR BABY garnered three other Oscar nominations: Best Achievement in Editing (Joel Cox), Best Performance by an Actor; leading (Clint Eastwood), Best Writing (Paul Haggis). MILLION DOLLAR BABY also received 25 other nominations and 34 other critical film association awards including 2 Golden Globes: Best Director (Clint Eastwood), and Best Actress (Hilary Swank).
Hilary Swank plays Maggie Fitzgerald, the unlikely dogged boxing and human extraordinaire.
Clint Eastwood plays Frankie Dunn, Maggie's reluctant trainer.
Morgan Freeman plays Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris, Dunn's former protege turned loyal employee.
Mike Colter plays Big Willie Little, the notorious women's boxing financer.
Lucia Rijker plays Billie "The Blue Bear", the unstoppable female boxing middleweight champion. Margo Martindale plays Earline Fitzgerald, Maggie's unthankful mother.
Riki Lindhome plays Mardell Fitzgerald, Maggie's wayward sister.