Sunday, February 06, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman & Hilary Swank form a formidable triumvirate in Eastwood’s lonely Million Dollar Baby and what a gratifying experience it is watching these actors’ splendid work magnified larger onscreen.

Million Dollar Baby holds a disturbing twist at the end that has divided its audience in a contentious debate in the line of ethics and morality. Not surprisingly however, the outstanding filmmaking merits of the film is kept at bay because it is just simply one of the greatest films of the year.

Maggie (Swank) is a trailer-trash Southern girl who earns a living waiting on tables in LA. She keeps a metal foil in her pocket to store food leftovers which will provide her dinner. She has a dream. She wants to be a boxer and she doesn’t want anybody else to train her except Frankie Dunne.

Frankie (Eastwood) is an aging boxing trainer whose gift in training boxers and churning out champions is on the wane as he grapples with a seeming guilt from a sin in his past that he can’t seem to overcome. He goes to church everyday. Engages the priest in a religious banter and yet there is a nagging sense of something, a quiet and passionate plea for forgiveness that he can’t grant even unto himself. He writes letters to a daughter who refuses to acknowledge and returns them unopened and yet he persists on writing everyday.

Frankie manages a gym with Scrap. Scrap (Freeman) is an ex-boxer whose only attempt at boxing glory ended tragically as he lost one of his eyes. Now, he lives in a makeshift room inside the gym with no possessions except the memories of his time as a promising boxer and the broken dreams of becoming a champion.

Scrap provides the narrative flow of the story. Based on a collection of short stories titled Rope Burns by F. X. Toole, this movie has the dark somber elements of Eastwood’s own Mystic River yet the powerful denouement recalls the tragic and unexpected conclusion of Midnight Cowboy and more recently The Hours and House of Sand and Fog.

Frankie hesitantly takes on Maggie under his charge but upon the prodding of Scrap he finally agrees on training her. Eventually, Frankie and Maggie form a friendship fostered on their equal need of each other - She a father figure and he a daughter he has not seen in years. When Maggie fought her first professional fight, Frankie gave her a robe with a gaelic name imprinted on it. When she asks what it means, he shrugs and tells her to find out on her own. Later, this will be revealed in one of the most crucial scenes in the film and almost certainly, i could feel the entire audience let out a collective gasp.

The Clint has fashioned a harsh movie based on a brilliantly written script and the audience is treated to another exceptional performance by Hilary Swank. As Maggie, Swank is able to transform herself again and this time to that of a late-blooming boxer who turns into a mean-spirited destroyer inside the ring. The combination of her girlish angst and boxing skills has contributed to a fully realized characterization that invites admiration and ultimately awards recognition. No one can approximate how great she has performed here without going into the film’s deservedly kept secret. I will not go into it but suffice it to say that if Swank was able to convincingly portray herself as a girl masquerading as a man in Boys Don’t Cry, in this movie she does the same thing and boy, can she be any better.

This is a movie with sparse dialogues hence the need for a narrator but the lack of spoken scenes is significantly overshadowed by a few but witty banters between Scrap and Frankie. There is one particular scene where Frankie is admonishing Scrap for wearing ugly worn socks (with holes!) inside his office and for those few moments the viewer is able to get a glimpse of how the characters inner selves are working. We are given an idea of how deep their friendship is and how Scrap manages to tolerate living such a nasty life.

There is sidebar story about a boy who moved from Texas with dreams of becoming the world's welterweight champion. His name is Danger and his story is special as it provides extra weight to the characters of Scrap and Frankie. More than the character element, his part in this story is to further encapsulate the resonating theme in this movie that everyone suffers one big loss in his life and it isn’t worth crying over but instead one must be able to regain his foothold, throw all weighty emotions away and continue on fighting for life. Such is the power of this movie that it can depict questionable ethics and yet still champion the cause of life.


Treena said...

Hi Raymond, I just saw Million Dollar Baby last Saturday and I loved it! The plot was fantastic. I was blown away by Hillary Swank's performance. Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman were both awesome.

Anne B. said...

I loved Million Dollar Baby!! At first I wasn't interested in watching it but now I'm glad I did. I was so moved by the relationship between Dunne and Maggie. And the performances by the actors were so galing! I'm so glad Morgan Freeman won the Oscar. - entertainment