A hardened boxing trainer (Clint Eastwood) is taken by surprise when an incredibly determined young women (Hilary Swank) wants him to train her. Won over by her sheer determination, he begrudgingly takes her on.
One neat way of describing Clint Eastwood's career to date is 'in the company of men'. For the most part, he has made genre films which examine 'ordinary' men battling giant human flaws. He shifts sideways slightly with Million Dollar Baby, making room for a wonderful strong female character struggling with insecurities of her own.
Eastwood and his regular collaborators turn the original author's words into a wonderful cinematic experience
Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry) plays Maggie Fitzgerald, a young dreamer who wants to crash the traditionally male-dominated world of boxing, and slug her way out of an impoverished life. Veteran boxing coach and gym owner Franke Dunn (Eastwood) will have none of it. Boxing and girls just don't go together as far as he is concerned – it's nothing more a cheap gimmick in a world that has gone to the dogs. Plus, he has big time issues with his own daughter – their estrangement has dogged him for thirty years and coaching a young woman around her age would be too painful a reminder of that. But Maggie persists and Frankie relents. She has tons of heart, some raw talent, and as his long time friend Eddie (Morgan Freeman) reminds him, Frankie is getting way too old to throw away yet another good opportunity.
Million Dollar Baby is based on a short story by ex-boxing 'cut man' F.X. O'Toole, so for the umpteenth time in his directing career, Eastwood selects choice literary material to adapt. As he did with Mystic River (2004) and Unforgiven (1992), Eastwood and his regular collaborators turn the original author's words into a wonderful cinematic experience, reminiscent of the great boxing films like John Huston's Fat City (1972), where boxing represents a way out for the underclass. And so Million Dollar Baby is a gentle, gritty, slow-burn of a drama, with a resolution right out of left field, an exciting boxing movie that shifts into a surprising and intense look at family and the ties that bind, in the way only a Clint movie can.
The performances by all involved are great – Swank may just take out her second Best Actress Oscar for her nuanced performance as Maggie – and Freeman, whose character 'Scrap Iron' narrates the film, provides the quiet intensity he has become famous for. And as an older man, playing an older man, Clint is superb. He smoulders with regret, vulnerability, and a fear of intimacy that has been forged over years of failed relationships. And as this supremely unassuming yet talented artist gets older, we are left with a more urgent sense that each one of his films is even more personal than the last. I for one can't get enough.