Best Picture Winner 2004: Million Dollar Baby
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
Other awards: Best Director, (Clint Eastwood) Best Actress, (Hilary Swank) and Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman)
Summary: An unappreciated boxing trainer takes on a young, female fighter who dreams of becoming a professional.
Million Dollar Baby may appear to some as another sports movie, but I don’t believe anyone who has seen it would put it in that genre. Unlike films like Remember the Titans or Rocky, which keep the sport itself as a focal point throughout the film, Million Dollar Baby seems to remove boxing from the foreground while almost every scene has boxing in it. I don’t believe anyone would think to call it a movie about boxing after watching it.
Million Dollar Baby appears to have a very predictable plot for at least half of the movie. Clint Eastwood plays Frankie Dunn, the surly but protective boxing coach who refuses to train “a girl.” Hilary Swank is Maggie, the determined, inexperienced woman whose won’t-take-no-for-an-answer attitude finally gets Frankie to relent. Then it all becomes very predictable. Through hard work and nonstop practice at Frankie’s gym, Maggie proves she is up to the task. Cue montage of training and glimpses of her fights that show Maggie is really holding her own and hard work does pay off.
The ending to Million Dollar Baby and the general feeling it leaves the audience with is what really sets it apart. If the ending had been different in any way I probably would not be as impressed as I was. For me, the ending is what makes the whole film worthwhile, even though the predictable parts were still enjoyable to watch.
The optimistic, country girl Maggie could have easily been a very cheesy character, but Hilary Swank really brings the character to life. You could say it’s to do with the writing, but I think it’s Swank that gets the audience to fall in love with her character, something crucial to the film’s reception. Also, as someone who is relatively indifferent to Clint Eastwood, I was thoroughly impressed with his acting and directing choices. The character of Frankie was compelling and made me want to know more about him from when he first appears on the screen until the very end. Even at the end I was still left hanging, wanting to unravel more of his character’s layers. The only point of contention I have is with Morgan Freeman’s character. It’s not that I don’t think Freeman is a capable actor, it’s just that his character did not allow for enough depth to warrant an Oscar. He plays Scrap, the janitor at the gym and Frankie’s friend, who offers advice from the background. He plays what we now know as a typical Morgan Freeman character, the wise older man who acts as an observer from the outside and acts a conscience for others. I’m not sure if there were slim pickings for supporting actor nominations that year or something else at play, but nothing about Freeman’s performance struck me as Oscar worthy.
Technically, Million Dollar Baby is a typical Clint Eastwood film complete with shadowy lighting, subdued colors, and actors that look down and away from the camera. Still, it all works and the artistic direction along with a well done screenplay and impressive acting make the movie a success. Also, the fact that it passed the Bechdel test with 3/3 makes it that much better in my book. I would recommend this film to anyone and dare them not to enjoy it, because even though it’s predictable, the ending certainly leaves people feeling differently than when they began the film. 3.5/5 stars.
TRIVIA: Clint Eastwood became the oldest Academy Award winning director at 71.