2004 / Best Actor / Best Actress / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor

Film #456: Million Dollar Baby (2004)

We pick things up a year after Mystic River where Eastwood found himself in the same position as he did twelve years earlier as he picked up Best Director and Best Picture for his boxing movie Million Dollar Baby.

Here Clint was back in front of the camera as grizzled boxing trainer Frankie Dunn, a man who was living with many regrets. Frankie was presented as the kind of man who put in all the work on a fighter only to be left behind when the boxer wanted to go for the title. His only true friends were the local pastor and Eddie ‘Scrap-Iron’ Dupris; a former fighter who now lives and works at Frankie’s gym. In an Unforgiven reunion, Eddie is played by Morgan Freeman who seems to have been hired purely to give a Shawshank Redemption-like voiceover to the film. However, if you’re going to get somebody to provide a thoughtful voiceover to a film then Freeman’s your man and I felt he gave Million Dollar Baby that special quality. The bulk of the film is devoted to Frankie’s training of Hilary Swank’s Maggie Fitzgerald; an older female boxer that he was reluctant to take on as he doesn’t coach girls. However, as the film goes on the pair develop an interesting working relationship which allows Maggie to thrive in the ring. I found that Paul Haggis’ script made Million Dollar Baby feel classier than your average sporting film and Maggie’s fights were split up with plenty of emotional scenes between Frankie and Maggie. One brilliant set piece sees Maggie return home to surprise her mother with a new house only to find her lovely gesture spat back in her face. The element of Million Dollar Baby that I remember the most is the film’s final act in which Maggie finds herself paralysed after an accident in a title match. Here I felt that Haggis over-egged the pudding a little bit as Million Dollar Baby became a different film altogether especially after Maggie asks Frankie to help her end her own life. Although I knew the ending was coming, I still found it shocking to watch and I think this sensitive storyline helped Million Dollar Baby to win Best Picture.

Alongside Eastwood’s awards for Directing and Best Picture both Swank and Freeman picked up awards for their performances. Swank gave a good portrayal of an every woman who was fighting to achieve her goal however for the most part I found it to be rather unremarkable. I think that the reason she was given the award was due to the final act as Maggie finds herself unable to fight the inevitable. Freeman’s wise narration was coupled with a number of fine scenes in which he finally got to have the one fight that had been eluding him all these years. Whilst Freeman did a good job in this film I feel he’s been better elsewhere especially in The Shawshank Redemption and Seven. If anybody should have won an Oscar for acting in the film I believe it should have been Eastwood himself as he perfectly conveyed the evolution in the character of Frankie. Clint played to his strengths for the most part but he still conveyed Frankie’s growing fatherly feelings towards Maggie. As he had done in Mystic River, Clint also provided a suitable score for Million Dollar Baby which again enhanced the overall mood of the film. I personally felt that Million Dollar Baby took a while to get going and it was only when Frankie took Maggie under his wing that the pace of the film picked up. A subplot involving the simple fighter Danger didn’t do anything for me and instead proved that Paul Haggis sometimes adds too many elements to his story as he did the year later with his script for Crash. Although a solid drama, I think it’s Million Dollar Baby’s mawkish third act that lets it down, although I’m sure this is why the academy ultimately gave it the Best Picture award. Ultimately there’s a lot to like about Million Dollar Baby, especially the performances and Eastwood’s assured direction, but it just doesn’t have that extra special something that a Best Picture winner truly needs.


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