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May 08, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

What Becomes a Legend Most?

Eastwood Breaks a Heart
By Cole Smithey

Million_dollar_baby Director/actor Clint Eastwood extends his far-reaching oeuvre of dark dramas with an ill-titled but fully satisfying film about a nearly washed-up boxing coach by the name of Frankie Dunn (Eastwood). Frankie trains Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank), a dirt poor 31-year-old female boxerm at the run-down gym he owns and operates. Eastwood’s highly cultivated dramatic sense permeates the unconventional story and fires Swank to deliver her best performance since "Boys Don’t Cry." Paul Haggis’s condensed script slopes too hard toward delivering a dramatic third-act sucker punch to the audience, but Eastwood’s expert direction and complex acting minimizes much of the source material’s obvious flaws. Morgan Freeman brings his customary keen level of commitment as Scrap the custodian of the gym and best friend to Frankie. Voice-over narration slightly mars this otherwise exquisite cinematic achievement.

Determined Maggie convinces the profoundly reticent Frankie to train her even though the old-school boxing coach recently lost his star fighter due to an overprotective nature that prevented the fighter from going after a championship title. "Always protect yourself" is the principle that Frankie lives his life by. We learn that his long past with Scrap involved a trainer/boxer relationship that ended when Scrap was blinded during a fight.

Maggie trains with a lion’s heart. She becomes an unbeatable fighter that Frankie begins to take stock in. So much so that he enters her into high-paying matches that advance her status as a boxer. Hillary Swank performed all of the breathtaking fighting sequences that were filmed without choreography. The realism of the fights is indisputable.     

"Million Dollar Baby" is a tragic film about an innately paternal man’s desperate need to overcome his own emotional traps and the loyal girl who facilitates his growth by her steely will and stubborn drive. Both pay a heavy price for their accomplishments that will take them to their graves as fulfilled people who sacrificed everything for each other.

Rated PG-13. 132 mins. (B+) (Four Stars)

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