For the second year in succession, a Clint Eastwood film has wowed the Academy. Last Year, a certain Peter Jackson and that well known trilogy stole Eastwood's thunder. Sean Penn and Tim Robbins were both bestowed with Best Actor and Supporting Actor for their electrifying turns in Mystic River, Eastwood did lose out to Jackson. This year, he bounced back with a film Warners didn't really want to make, a boxing film called....Million Dollar Baby. Eastwood assembled a small core cast of himself, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank and let loose their respective talents. The film came away with for Oscars for Director, Swank (Best Actress), Freeman (Best Supporting Actor) and Best film. Eastwood would probably have won Best Actor if Jamie Foxx hadn't turned in one of the best performances in years as Ray Charles.
Maggie Fitzgerald is a down on her luck waitress, she lives in total squalor and relies on her customers to leave their steak so she can afford to eat. Maggie has a dream...that dream is to box. She decides to seek out veteran trainer, Frankie Dunn at his gym 'The Hit Pit'. Frankie immediately tells Maggie that “He doesn't train girls” and dismisses her. Not one to give up, she trains non stop at the gym and impresses old timer, Scraps (Morgan Freeman) an ex fighter who is blind in one eye and he gives her lessons after hours. Big Willie (Mike Colter) is Frankie's protégé, but after Frankie continues to put him off with regards to a title fight saying that he needs two more fights, Willie leaves him for another manager. Shortly after in his first attempt at the title, Willie becomes World Champion. Frankie is impressed with Maggie's determination and also the fact that the crafty old Scraps has been giving her boxing instruction, he agrees to train her and become her manager.
Maggie learns quickly and starts to become a real talent on the boxing circuit. She becomes infamous for knocking out her opponents in the first round and Frankie has to result in buying off managers to let Maggie at their fighters. Maggie in the meantime is collecting a fair amount of money and decides to purchase her Mother her own property. That is where things start to go wrong. Her Mother is ungrateful trailer trash and tragedy strikes when Maggie faces her toughest opponent to date.
Eastwood has adopted an almost monochromic look to the film and the colours only come alive in the Flashy boxing scenes later on into the film. Throughout the film there are splashes of colour mainly on the actor's clothes and the ring ropes. This merges with the monochrome photography and is beautiful to look at. Credit must be given to Eastwood and his casting people who have picked a stellar bunch of unknown thespians and let them shine. Particularly good is Jay Baruchel who plays Danger, a young lad left behind by his family who is ridiculed by the other fighters. His performance is warm, yet pathetic as he is has no idea how to box. He has nothing but pure determination to learn to box. He will never be a boxer, but Freeman's character warms to him and lets him shadow box all day long in the gym.
Up to now, I have not said much about the Academy Award winning performance by Hilary Swank. Hilary's performance in this film is just....brilliant. Perfecting a hillbilly accent, she gives a performance that will possibly be talked about for a long time. Having to put across countless different emotions, this is one character you actually learn to love and feel real pity in the film's climatic closing. I cannot imagine anyone even being thought about in this role and to think it was originally going to be a Sandra Bullock vehicle. Eastwood is Eastwood, Gruff, Father-like and simply one of the all time greats. This man can stand next to the likes of Flynn, Grant and Bogart as a screen legend. If you could sell his charisma or talent you would be a billionaire overnight. Freeman again turns in an impressive performance as the old fighter making a living mopping the floors and cleaning the toilet. His delivery of some priceless sarcastic lines at Eastwood is both funny and sad. This is a guy who was close to the top, but fell from grace.Eastwood, the director has like a good wine, matured over the years. Although Unforgiven is still I think his crowning achievement, Million Dollar Baby is not far behind. Although for some reason my favourite films of his are the Dirty Harry's and the monkey films... “Right Turn Clyde!!”
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