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MILLION DOLLAR BABY
U.S. Release Date: December 15, 2004
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Paul Haggis
Producer: Clint Eastwood, Paul Haggis, Robert Lorenz (executive), Gary Lucchesi (executive), Tom Rosenberg
Composer: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Jay Baruchel, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena
Running Time: 2 hours and 17 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (violence, some disturbing images and thematic material)

Father of the Boxer
by C.A. Wolski

Clint Eastwood's boxing picture, Million Dollar Baby, is more welterweight than heavyweight in its depiction of the redemptive power of sports. That said, it wins by a technicality due to Eastwood's assured direction and fantastic performances by him and Hilary Swank as a desperate, dirt-poor boxer.

We've seen this picture a million times before—glory hungry fighter attaches dreams to a grizzled old trainer who can bring victory. Along the way, both fighter and trainer learn important life lessons that make them better people. That's exactly how Million Dollar Baby starts out, but in its last act it delivers a punch that shouldn't—but does—score and score big.

Eastwood is effectively understated as a former cut man and trainer, who owns an L.A.-area gym, the Hit Pit. He's still waiting for his big fighter to come along. When the most promising prospect in years dumps him, Eastwood takes it on the chin and plans to glide into oblivion. At the urging of his major domo (Morgan Freeman), who's an ex-boxer hmself, Eastwood takes poor West Virginian Swank as his new protégé.

What follows is the typical training and fighting sequences we've come to expect from a boxing picture. Swank's character is headstrong and won't listen to Eastwood. She wins. She's elated. Tough Eastwood softens up.

Swank is believable as a tough fighter who dismantles her opponents and Eastwood gives a great performance. But the script by Emmy-winner Paul Haggis (based on stories by F.X. Toole) relies on clichés, stock situations and characters.

We already know Swank is poor, but she is shown taking customer leftovers from the restaurant where she works and eating them back at her suitably dingy apartment. Her ungrateful, trailer-trash family is also absolutely unsympathetic and stereotypical—down to their fake West Virginia accents. Eastwood's non-existent relationship with his daughter is also a bit cliched, making his role as Swank's surrogate father more obvious.

Added to that is a subplot involving another would-be fighter that is both unnecessary and painful to watch. Writer Haggis includes Mr. Freeman's running narration, which detracts from the slow, even way Eastwood presents the story, and all sorts of hokey pseudo-philosophical sports stuff.

But all the boxing and bleeding—and the cussing and fretting—set up the real heart of the movie, which takes place in the last third, and it elevates Million Dollar Baby barely above a made-for-Lifetime movie. Eastwood's trainer is forced to make a decision that goes against everything he believes, but it is the right thing to do. Eastwood engages in real discussion of ethics, which is deep, meaningful and thought-provoking. Haggis' script undercuts the consequences, but Eastwood pulls it off—making a solid picture out of less than solid material.


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