Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman
Million Dollar Baby was the surprise champ at the Oscars, punching above its weight and delivering a knock-out to Martin Scorcese (The Aviator). This young pretender of a movie, filmed in 37 days by old hand Clint Eastwood, came out of nowhere and snaffled best picture, director, actor (Hilary Swank) and supporting actor (Morgan Freeman). It tells the tale of Maggie, a young trailer park woman (Swank) who dreams of becoming a top boxer. She hangs round the gym of old cuss Eastwood, hoping he’ll train her. Having seen fighters damaged before, Frankie’s reluctant. But of course, he takes her on, warming to her spunky attitude and to her self-belief and her touching trust in his skills. Soon, Maggie’s a boxer and Frankie’s finding the father-daughter relationship he doesn’t have in real life.
This isn’t Rocky or Raging Bull. It isn’t really a boxing movie at all. It’s more a drama about hope, dreams and family – dreams that come at a price. Consequently, Eastwood gives it a bleak tone with muted lighting and a grainy look. The boxing bouts are exciting and Swank is more than believable as the terrier-like fighter. But the main story is about Maggie and Frankie find fulfillment as proxy father and daughter.
Swank is the core of it and carries the movie with a luminous performance. Eastwood proves again he’s a better director than actor. But his turn as the testy old trainer, coming to terms with loss and love, is a brave one.
If you’re put off by boxing and prefer a box of tissues, then you’ll enjoy this. If you’ve believed the hype, then you may be disappointed. It delivers a blow, but not in the way you’d expect.