Film Review: Million Dollar Baby (2004)

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(source: tmdb.org)

In the annals of cinema, there are films that, when viewed from a certain broader perspective, appear to have no other purpose than to give a gigantic middle finger to a certain person. In the case of the 2004 sports drama Million Dollar Baby, directed by Clint Eastwood, the object of this humiliation is none other than Martin Scorsese.

Based on the eponymous short story by boxing trainer Jerry Boyd, published under the pen name F. X. Toole in the 2000 collection Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner, the films tells the tale of Margaret "Maggie" Fitzgerald (played by Hilary Swank), a 31-year-old waitress from a small town in the Ozarks who has saved money for years to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a professional boxer in Los Angeles. She catches the eye of Frank "Frankie" Dunn (played by Clint Eastwood), an elderly Irish-American trainer who initially refuses to train her, partly because he doesn't train women and partly because he thinks she's too old to start such a demanding career. However, Maggie's determination gradually wins him over, so he trains her. She begins to compete for titles, gaining fame and money. Just when Maggie is supposed to achieve her ultimate fame, a cruel twist of fate turns both her and Frankie's life upside down.

Taken strictly on its own merit, Million Dollar Baby looks like a typical, competently made, and "safe" drama that studios tend to launch during the late autumn to qualify for Oscars and other prestigious awards. It also looks like a typical slow-paced, atmospheric, and idiosyncratic film that Clint Eastwood used to make in the last decades of his career, following his Unforgiven triumph, which had given him enough prestige and clout to indulge in all kinds of experiments.

Million Dollar Baby also functions as good Oscar-bait. Its main attraction and what it is remembered for is an acting performance, further impressive through the demanding role of a person with a serious affliction. Furthermore, a film with a female protagonist in a sport traditionally seen as masculine is very easy to describe as feminist and with a women-empowering message, which would never fail to win the hearts of liberal-left voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) and, even more importantly, left-wing critics. Scriptwriter Paul Haggis also checked the right marks by making Maggie's family from Ozark, represented by her mother, played by the always impressive Margo Martindale, as the vilest of villains, corresponding with negative stereotypes that Hollywood likes to cultivate about right-wing "troglodytes" in Flyover Country. Finally, there was the issue of euthanasia and the pro-stance that the film takes, which is opposed to Christian and, especially, US conservative views on the issue, which later caused a lot of controversy.

Million Dollar Baby succeeded in its mission, earning four Oscars, including the Oscar for Best Film. However, its triumph isn't remembered for the film itself, at least not as much as the film it defeated during the race. In 2004, Martin Scorsese, the perennial victim of Oscar snubbing despite being hailed as the greatest filmmaker in Hollywood, made another desperate attempt to win the golden statue through The Aviator, a spectacular love letter to Hollywood in its golden age, a film as "safe" as Million Dollar Baby but much grander.

AMPAS voters, on the other hand, decided to slam the doors again into Scorsese's face, and this time, they had the film which was best possible choice to humiliate Scorsese. Two of the three winners had already won Oscars before - Eastwood as producer and director of Unforgiven, and Swank for her role in Boys Don't Cry. Morgan Freeman, who plays Frankie's assistant Eddie "Scrap Iron" Dupris, quite deservingly won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, although it can be argued that this award was also compensation for previous snubs. The boxing theme of Million Dollar Baby was another reason to rub salt into Scorsese's wounds, reminding him both that Rocky in 1976 prevailed over his masterpiece Taxi Driver, while in 1980 Scorsese's own boxing film Raging Bull came short of Ordinary People.

Million Dollar Baby is a solid film, and its Oscar success turned into box office success. Scriptwriter Paul Haggis had his own moment of Oscar glory with Crash a year later, although that achievement would later become a source of major controversy. Although Million Dollar Baby is unlikely to suffer such a fate, its position in film history will always be, for the better and worse, under the shadow of the golden statue.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

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5 comments
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Justo acabo de ir a un evento de boxeo de mujeres hace unos días, quizá por eso me ha llamado la atención esta cinta jajs

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I often read your opinions which I think are interesting and also in this one; from the "human" point of view which is then what I am most interested in, the film is very touching engaging and intense.
It's enough for me and I enjoyed it although I'm honest, I wouldn't watch it twice, it's a pain for me, thanks for sharing
!COFFEE
!LUV
!PIZZA

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Yee-haw! This blog post about "Million Dollar Baby" is as lively as a buckin' bronco at a rodeo! It's got grit and heart, just like a cowboy at sunset, keep on readin', partner!

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This film is both wonderful and tragic at the same time. I didn't expect the ending at all. I thought I was going to see a kind of "Rocky" but a female version and nothing like that. This tape has one of the strongest Plot Twists I have ever seen.

Good review.