“If there’s magic in boxing, it’s the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys and detached retinas. It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you.”
I’ve always known that Clint Eastwood was a more than competent director, but for some reason, I’m rarely excited about a Clint Eastwood movie. And even when they become critical, or awards, or box office successes, I’m still skeptical for some reason. But when I eventually get around to watching them, I always really like them. And now that I have finally gotten around to Million Dollar Baby, I think I need to accept the fact that I’m a big Clint Eastwood fan.
Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) is a gruff, cranky old boxing gym owner and trainer. As told through the voiceover of Eddie ‘Scrap-Iron’ Dupris (Morgan Freeman), an old fighter of his, Frankie is a little more cautious than the average trainer when it comes to who he puts his fighters in the ring with. Still feeling guilt over Eddie losing an eye in a fight decades earlier, Frankie loses his greatest prospect, Big Willie Little, when he refuses to let Little take on the current champ.
All the while, he’s being bugged by Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) to be her trainer and manager. Refusing to coach a woman, Frankie does is best to scare her away, but Maggie won’t budge. After encouragement from Eddie and impressed by Maggie’s resilience, Frankie eventually caves in takes her under his wing.
Nothing about Million Dollar Baby made it look like a movie I would enjoy. A plucky female boxer doesn’t sound like a character I’m going to give a crap about. I already knew what the big moment at the end was, and that only made me want to see the movie less. And Eastwood and Freeman respectively crotchety and wise isn’t really anything new. They’ve both spent decades at this point with those as their default modes. But for all of that Million Dollar Baby still really worked.
Eastwood has a reputation for being an efficient film maker. His movies generally come in ahead of schedule and under budget. And there’s something about his practicality behind the camera that I really like in front of the camera as well. His movies are always a great example of how less is more can work, and he knows when to get out of the way and just let his characters and story do their thing. Million Dollar Baby is a story, populated by characters who are best when left alone to do their thing. On paper, there’s nothing about this movie to make me want to see it. In execution, Eastwood (as actor and director) and Swank make it impossible to not be drawn into.