It’s not terribly often that you think about a movie for a while after it plays. More often than not, I’m forgetting that I even watched a movie just hours after it ends — even for some of the ones that I quite enjoy. A movie that truly sticks with you is rare, but that happens to be just the kind of movie that Million Dollar Baby is. It took me a while to forget about it, and even then, I could remember practically every scene and how I felt during them. Sometimes, people ask you if you remember where you were during a certain event; I’ll remember where I was when I watched this movie.
Our film stars Hilary Swank as a fighter named Maggie Fitzgerald, someone without any professional training but a real courage to succeed. She approaches a coach, Frankie (Clint Eastwood, who also directed and scored the film), who is the best in the business, but he tells her that he doesn’t train girls. She goes to his gym and begins training anyway, and eventually convinces Frankie to become her coach through her unrelenting work effort and spirit — even though he tells her it’ll take him four years to get her to the top, and she’s already 32 years old.
It doesn’t matter. Her spirit is enough, and she eventually stars getting into fights, and doing reasonably well. However, what seems like it’s going to be a generic underdog story eventually progresses and transcends into something much more. I don’t want to spoil that, but the Million Dollar Baby‘s final half hour is so much more than a typical sports movie, and is memorable and powerful because of that.
Let’s just say that I didn’t see a twist in the road coming, and that it left me with my jaw hanging low. If for no other reason than that — although there are more reasons which I will get to — you should give Million Dollar Baby a watch. It’s a film that probably would have deserved your time even if it decided to stay the course of a generic underdog story, as it’s well made on all levels, but making it actually worth something is what makes it stick with you for days after it concludes.
There wasn’t a moment in this film that felt rushed or too slow. It was perfectly paced, and not a scene or point in time felt out of place. For a film exceeding a two hour running time, this is important. I wouldn’t change a single thing about the way it was put together, and I can’t think of one moment I didn’t really enjoy. Even the times when it decided to focus on something else — like a subplot involving Jay Baruchel’s small but scrappy fighter — it’s thoroughly engaging.
The actors are the main draw, I think. Hilary Swank’s determination and energy are almost enough to carry us, but when matched with Eastwood’s gruff veteran, the combination is perfect, allowing us to see the two play off one another. Adding in Morgan Freeman as a former fighter, current gym janitor, is a brilliant decision. Freeman also narrates the film, presumably because that’s an excuse to have Freeman’s voice permeate the film for more time. I’m not knocking that decision, although the narration doesn’t really bring much until the very last scene, when it’s revealed who exactly he’s talking to.
The actual boxing scenes are fairly thrilling, although many of them are dominations, one way or another, meaning that they’re not as fun as watching a real boxing match. It’s only when the opponents are of equal skill that they’re enjoyable to watch in this film, as it means that there will actually be some risk involved for both parties. This only happens a couple of times, and it might have been an even better film if there was some more parity in the fighters more often than not.
Each one of these characters has a tremendous amount of depth. They all have pasts that involve heartbreak and difficulties. Maggie has a family that doesn’t appreciate her, Frankie hasn’t spoken with his daughter for years, Freeman’s character lost an eye and he and Frankie don’t always see eye to — well, they’re not always happy with one another, thanks to something that happened in their past. Frankie and Maggie begin almost a surrogate father-daughter relationship, and that becomes a big focus midway through.
There’s so much to absorb and take in that you could watch Million Dollar Baby a few times and still not quite get everything out of it. It’s rich in depth and yet is still fairly simple, allowing for a watch that’s as great as you allow it to be. You put a lot into it, and you’ll get a lot out, but if you just want to watch a movie about an underdog boxer, that’s there for you as well. It’s always nice to have a movie that gives you as much as you put into it.
Million Dollar Baby is a great movie that transcends its genre and all of the clichés that are associated with that. It’s not just an underdog story; all of the characters have more to give you than adhering to that typical story arch. It contains three outstanding performances by Swank, Eastwood and Freeman, and it’s perfectly paced, leading to you never having a dull moment while watching it. As someone who doesn’t like boxing, it captivated me throughout, and kept my focus for a while after it finishing.