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Million Dollar Baby (2004)

  • Review: **** (out of ****)
  • Starring: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
  • Director: Clint Eastwood
  • Screenplay: Paul Haggis (Stories from Rope Burn : F.X. Toole)
  • Length: 132 min.
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For violence, some disturbing images, thematic material and language)

The underdog story takes a wholly new directionin Clint Eastwood's boxing drama Million Dollar Baby.

Hilary Swank stars aside Eastwood, who alsodirects, as female boxer Maggie Fitzgerald. The film opens as she's lovinglywatching Eastwood's Frankie Dunn assist his current boxing trainee into a matchvictory. Afterwards, she approaches him to ask him to train her. He refusesindicating he doesn't train girls and suggests she find someone else.

When she stubbornly turns up at his gym, heinsists she look elsewhere. His assistant, former boxing champ Eddie Dupris(Morgan Freeman), however, takes a liking to her determination and spirit.After many tense encounters, Frankie reluctantly agrees to take her on. Fromthere, the film explores their delicate relationship that expands far beyondthe typical mentor and student bond and to one of father and daughter.

Frankie's own daughter is nowhere around and welearn through dialogue that she won't speak with him and only returns hisletters unopened. Still, Eddie and Frankie's annoyed pastor insist that hecontinue trying because one day she might respond. It becomes obvious with hisdoting over Maggie that he has found in her a replacement for his lostdaughter.

The film takes a twist roughly three-quartersthrough, one which leaves Frankie, Eddie and Maggie in the middle of a moralquandary. Their decisions effect their lives more than anything had leading upto that point and most of all, Frankie must come to turns with love and lossonce again.

Eastwood's talent in front of thecamera is beginning to rival his behind-the-camera work. Long gone are the daysof Dirty Harry and Every Which Way But Loose. He easily coaxes a wonderfulperformance out of Swank, whose recent work hasn't supported her Oscar win forBoys Don't Cry (The Core is hardly mesmerizing).

Freeman's work is solid as the half-blindex-champ who acts as a softener for the gruff Eastwood. Together, the threemake an impressive ensemble. The problem is that Eastwood falls into the sametrap that he faced in Mystic River. The screenplayboasts too many superfluous characters. Ones such as the pastor and a retardedboxer wannabe are unnecessary to the plot, much like Kevin Bacon's character inMystic River.

This single hole does not sink the MillionDollar Baby that confirms Eastwood as a late-career bloomer. The film doesn'tshy away from difficult topics. It tackles one particular hot-button politicalissue as a result of the twist but no one will get that information out of thiscritic.

Audiences are bound to find a great deal ofenjoyment in Million Dollar Baby but after the twist, traditional audiencesmight shy away from the complex moral issues portrayed and leave somewhatunenthused while others might find the film too depressing for their enjoyment.Those who don't mind will enjoy the stark realism with which they are faced andmay come out with a new opinion on a long-lasting moral debate.