Reel To Reel:How It Rates: ****
Million Dollar Baby
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Hilary Swank
Red Flags: Boxing Violence, Mild Language, Some Intense Scenes
Preconceived Notions: Up for multiple Oscars and a knockout with critics. So why is it taking so long to open in wide release?
The Bottom Line: Some things are worth waiting for.
I am continuously baffled by why, if a film is so great, it plays for weeks in New York and Los Angeles before opening in the rest of the country. The two coasts have seen Million Dollar Baby for more than a month now. Marketing strategies and making the deadline for Oscar contension are surely the answer, but they are lame excuses given the weight of this movie.
Million Dollar Baby is one of the best boxing pictures ever made. Some would say the heavyweight championship goes to Raging Bull, but we could go 15 rounds sparring about which film is better and end in a draw. Hilary Swank plays Maggie, a struggling waitress who wants to be a boxer. She comes from a trailer trash family, eats scraps so she can save her real money for another day, and doesn't own a television. She's reluctantly mentored by Frank (Eastwood), a worn-down boxer, trainer and cutman who's still shadow-boxing moral dilemmas. Morgan Freeman plays Scrap, Frank's partner in a boxing gym, another grizzled old fighter who narrates the story and serves as both a referee and mentor to both Frank and Maggie.
Maggie approaches Frank in the early minutes of the film looking for a trainer. Frank brushes her off with a growl: "I don't train girls." But Maggie, with nowhere to go but back to her trashy roots, keeps on working out at the gym and Scrap sees a champ in the making. Frank finally takes her on after losing an up-and-coming fighter to a manager who can get him better action.
You can see a remake of Rocky here, right down to Burgess Meredith's crusty old trainer. But to put Million Dollar Baby in the ring with that film is like putting Gone With The Wind and Glory in a title match. Baby, produced and directed by Eastwood, transcends the boxing-film genre. The movie isn't about people fighting each other; it's about people fighting for their lives and livelihoods against the demons of povery, guilt, and phyical inferiority. The film has enough story and charcter depth for two pictures. But it's one. As Frank points out, you only get one shot at the title. And Million Dollar Baby packs a heck of a whallop.