To tell the truth, I had no real desire to see this film, even after it won Best Picture (I tend to be fairly unimpressed with the Oscar-dubbed "best" movies). I also had the impression that it was ultimately a very sad motion picture, and it's hard for me to watch sad movies. But - Morgan Freeman's in it, and (as I've said every time I review a Morgan Freeman movie), I consider Morgan Freeman to be the best actor working today. So I watched the movie. To say I was impressed and moved is an understatement. Million Dollar Baby is a truly magnificent film that does indeed hearken back to the old days when movies touched lives rather than merely entertained.
This movie plants its roots deeply into the human landscape, with the final hour riding a mighty wave of raw emotion. What began as a film suddenly transforms into something much more real. Much of the power of the whole story is subtly rendered, as past regrets lie hidden even as they influence everything that happens. Morgan Freeman is, of course, masterful in his co-starring role, and Hilary Swank more than deserved the Best Actress statuette she claimed at the Oscars. It is Clint Eastwood, though, who shines the brightest in this little universe of amazing stars. As producer and director as well as actor, he once again proves himself to be among the most gifted artists of all time. Much credit must also go the writer of the screenplay. The writing is well-nigh perfect, particularly in the way it brings disparate elements together in the end.
If I were to lay out the whole story, I could do it pretty quickly. It's amazing how the most powerful of movies usually feature the simplest of stories. If you don't know the story already, you really don't need to know what happens before you watch it (and I would recommend this movie to anyone and everyone), so I'll talk about the characters and what they represent (to me, at least). Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) is a classic underdog. She has nothing but a dream and only one thing she cares about - and that is boxing. Not only is she trying to penetrate what has always been a man's world, she also has another strike against her in the form of her age. Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), a long-time trainer and manager, is not about to start training a woman, especially a 32-year-old rookie. Maggie has the heart of a champion, though, and she is simply not going to give up. Dunn is a fascinating character - gruff on the outside, a loner, but also a man haunted by his past and obviously searching for something. He attends Mass every single day, for example, and only to get the priest riled up with questions after every service. We don't know much about his life other than what we see in the gym, but we know he has a daughter who returns every one of his weekly letters to her. When he and Maggie finally team up together, their relationship runs deep. Dunn becomes a surrogate father to Maggie, even as she becomes like a daughter to him - this latter point is expressed beautifully at the end. Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris (Morgan Freeman), Dunn's gym manager and only real friend is the bridge that finally brings them together. He's a wonderful character in and of himself (as are several minor characters); we don't plumb his emotional depths the way we do those of Dunn and Maggie, but he is actually the narrator of this truly moving story (plus, we get to see him bring a real punk down a notch or two at one point).
Maybe you're shying away from this film because it's about a female boxer - well, it's really about life itself. Maybe you don't like sad movies - this film's worth the emotional turmoil it might put you through. Maybe you're just biased against Best Picture award-winners. All I can tell you is that I was all three of these things, and now I am here praising Million Dollar Baby in a loud voice. This is filmmaking at its best; it will move even the hardest of hearts, and it will renew your faith in the ability of motion pictures to truly transport the human soul in the most compelling of ways. Million Dollar Baby plays on the level of Greek tragedy, and that's something you can say of only a handful of recent movies.