MILLION DOLLAR BABY (Clint Eastwood, 2004)
In MILLION DOLLAR BABY Hilary Swank plays Maggie Fitzgerald, a hardscrabble waitress who dreams of becoming a boxing champion. Clint Eastwood directs and stars as Frankie Dunn, the crusty trainer who eventually gives in to Maggie’s persistent pleas to whip her into peak prizefighting form.
MILLION DOLLAR BABY is an exceptional boxing movie, but Paul Haggis’ screenplay, based on F.X. Toole’s stories, amounts to something greater than the familiar underdog sports tale. Frankie’s estrangement from his daughter and Maggie’s ability to fill that aching emptiness turn MILLION DOLLAR BABY into a great Hollywood love story. What people do in relationships often speaks volumes more than what they say. Eastwood and Haggis understand that as they let the actions of these characters articulate the feelings they might never verbalize. Eastwood uses his gruff screen persona differently than audiences are accustomed to seeing. He shows Frankie to be all bark and no bite rather than the pit bull we expect. His interactions with Swank and Morgan Freeman, who plays his best friend Eddie, are terse and brittle, but there’s little doubt that it’s his way of masking the affection he’s afraid to reveal. The three central performances rank among the finest these actors have given in their impressive careers, an achievement that can be credited in part to Eastwood’s unobtrusive, classical direction. MILLION DOLLAR BABY is one of the year’s best films.
(Review first aired on the February 1, 2005 NOW PLAYING)