Clint Eastwood……….Frankie Dunn
Hilary Swank……….Maggie Fitzgerald
Morgan Freeman……….Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris
Jay Baruchel……….Danger Barch
Lucia Rijker……….Billie “The Blue Bear”
Anthony Mackie……….Shawrelle Berry
Warner Bros. in association with Lakeshore Entertainment present Million Dollar Baby. Written by Paul Haggis. Based upon stories from Rope Burns: Stories From the Corner by F. X. Toole. Running time: 133 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for violence, some disturbing images, thematic material and language).
“Boxing is an unnatural act. Because everything in it is backwards.” – Eddie “Scrap” Dupris
I must admit I am not an ardent fan of boxing. Two grown men pummeling each other in a squared circle just isn’t appealing. But I do not dismiss the skill. Footwork, the speed bag, and endurance, all are essential to the art of boxing. Hollywood has acknowledged this art by producing many types of pugilist films. A favorite of many is the underdog’s gumption to succeed. Then there’s the occasional retrospective on a famous boxer like Jake La Motta, Muhammad Ali or James Braddock.
Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby is much more than a boxing tale – and truth be told, it’s not a boxing film at all. It is a remarkable, filmgoing experience. A simple story that is magnified on the silver screen. The film tells the story of three individuals: an old codger of a trainer; a backwoodsy girl with aspirations to be a boxer; and the trainer’s best friend, a boxer way past his prime. This movie is a masterpiece and the best film of 2004. It has a special kind of substance, exploring the emotions tied to life and death.
There was a time when Frankie Dunn was the best “cutman” in the business. In the sixties, he was so good at his job he started training hopeful boxers. One such boxer was Eddie Dupris. Nicknamed “Scrap,” Dupris has lost a step since his heyday, but he can still throw down when the opportunity arises. Under Frankie’s guidance Scrap made it to the main event. Now, he lives in the backroom of Frankie’s low rent gym; a place where average Joes and would be contenders train.
As Frankie, Eastwood is a renaissance man. When he isn’t training he reads poetry and Gallic in his office. And there is a bit of mystery to him. Everyday for 23 years, Frankie has been attending morning mass. He also writes his daughter every week. The letters always come back “Return to Sender.” Hillary Swank plays Maggie, the lass from Southwest Missouri, who has spent most of her life waitressing. Morgan Freeman pulls double duty as Frankie’s best friend Scrap and as the narrator.
Like many troubled youths, Maggie sees boxing as a way she can escape her hard knock life. Boxing is the only thing she feels good doing. With gloves laced, she is able to punch and fight and forget about her three-hundred-pound mother; how her sister cheats at welfare; and the act of waitressing. Maggie’s got nothing else if she can’t experience that atmosphere inside the ring.
Talking like a man who’s swallowed gravel by the quart most of his life, Scrap is Frankie’s sounding board; and the guy who convinces Frankie to give Maggie a shot. There’s a scene where Scrap is sitting at Frankie’s desk, his legs outstretched. He’s wearing socks with big holes in them, and one of his big toes is exposed. Frankie asks him, “Where are your shoes?” Scrap: “Airing out my feet.” Then Frankie comments on the big holes. “Oh, they’re not that big,” Scrap replies. In this discourse we see these two men for what they are: a couple of ninnies. But these conversations also help to illustrate the nuances of each character. Frankie is lean and on the level, while Scrap has a “do what feels good” approach to life.
Hilary Swank is an amazing presence as Maggie. Drawing from her own troubled childhood, Swank exudes intensity, both internally and externally. But it’s not just her physical appearance that draws you in, it’s the way she listens or reacts. Sure, she may refer to Frankie as “Boss” and ask him a bunch of questions; but she can be an attentive listener, and not say a word, if the mood calls for it.
Morgan Freeman’s narration is very reminiscent of The Shawshank Redemption, another film that exercised his vocal talents. In that movie, Freeman’s character chronicles the life of Andy Dufrense inside the walls of Shawshank Prison. In Million Dollar Baby, with that gruff voice of his, Scrap tells us what has happened matter-of-factly. He talks about how a scrappy girl walked into the gym one day and just wouldn’t leave, how her noncompliant attitude got the best of Frankie, and what happened next.
Prior to this film, screenwriter Paul Haggis’s biggest claim to fame was as a writer for the television show Walker, Texas Ranger. Haggis adapted the story from Rope Burns: Stories From the Corner, a 2000 book by an amiable fight manager. His screenplay is classic storytelling, pure and simple; the dialogue about everyday life is effortless. Even some of the banter is worth remembering. According to Maggie, “trouble in my family comes by the pound.” Then there’s Scrap and Frankie debating the smell of bleach. Scrap buys the expensive stuff because he thinks it smells better.
Million Dollar Baby is a film that will likely alienate some viewers. Seeing how Frankie, Maggie, and Scrap interact with each other, you can’t help but be drawn into their lives. At the beginning of this review I included a quote: “Boxing is an unnatural act. Because everything in it is backwards.” This is a point of reference. Early into the film Scrap shares that bit of information while a boxing match is in process. Upon further reflection, though, the statement has a deeper meaning. An allusion to the admission of defeat, perhaps. As Clint Eastwood’s film approaches its denouement you begin to reexamine the three characters and question your own beliefs.
And in the end you see this film how you want to see it.
VIDEO: How does it look?
Million Dollar Baby is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen format that is just brilliant. Director of Photography Tom Stern’s eye to detail gives the film a dark color scheme with pitch-black blacks and aesthetically pleasing whites and grays. For the most part, the film is shot in shadows, but there are times when vibrant colors bleed through. The fleshtones are accurate, and the attention to detail is deep. Definitely one of the best visual presentations on DVD. No wonder it looks like a million bucks.
AUDIO: How does it sound?
This DVD release sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 format. The audio is spot-on, providing great surround sound during the pugilist action-filled scenes and toning it down for the quieter scenes. Dialogue is clear and crisp, which is important to the heartfelt scenes near the end of the feature. Clint Eastwood’s musical score also benefits from 5.1 audio. Well balanced. Your surround sound speakers will provide ambient sounds throughout the picture, but during the boxing scenes it kicks it up a notch. It’s almost as if you can smell the linoleum of the auditorium. A great audio presentation with dynamic range.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Three featurettes and a soundtrack!!
For an Academy Award-winning film, this three-disc “deluxe edition” has a small amount of extras. The three major supplements are found on the second disc, and add up to less than an hour’s worth of material.
The first extra on the second disc is a 19-minute featurette entitled Born to Fight. The minidoc includes talking-head interviews intercut with film clips. The actors of the film outline their characters. Frankie is generally P.O.-ed; boxing is Maggie’s way out; and Scrap has nothing in the world except Frankie and the Gym. The best aspect of this featurette, though, is the information provided by actress and real-life boxer Lucia Rijker. She plays boxer Billie “The Blue Bear” in the film. When she talks, you want to listen. Rijker gives us a glimpse at her life as a female boxer. Jay Baruchel (“Danger Barch”), and Anthony Mackie (Shawrelle Berry) also contribute to the proceedings, but this is definitely Rijker’s featurette. It’s interesting to note that she went through many of the same pitfalls as Maggie Fitzgerald. Ultimately, “Born to Fight” is an insightful extra because it overviews the film, story, and characters, while at the same time exploring the sport of female boxing.
Up next is the 13-minute feature called The Producers’ Round 15. It follows the same format as the first featurette. The program begins with a written quote by Clint Eastwood. “If you want to make a good movie, you always have to take a risk.” Three men are interviewed about Million Dollar Baby: Producer Albert S. Ruddy, Producer/Screenwriter Paul Haggis and Producer Tom Rosenberg. Albert Ruddy starts off telling how he got involved with the project; Anjelica Huston gave him a copy of F.X. Toole’s Rope Burns to read. He wept like a baby. Definitely the most entertaining, Ruddy speaks candidly on meeting F.X. Toole. Besides Ruddy’s stories, we get Paul Haggis talking about the screenwriting process and Tom Rosenberg just basking in the limelight. Not the most enlightening feature, but it does an okay job highlighting the origin of the film.
The last extra on the second disc is a roundtable interview with Clint, Hilary, Morgan and moderator James Lipton. James Lipton Takes on Three is a 25-minute segment where the host of Inside the Actor’s Studio self-congratulates the three after their recent Oscar wins. As an interviewer, Lipton is one of the strangest. Sometimes he asks questions that don’t make sense to any of the guests. What’s best to be learned from this feature is simple. Morgan Freeman feels that listening is the essence of acting. Also, Clint Eastwood shot the film in 37 days. And as a director, he isn’t one to stay directly to script. He’ll allow for improvisation. When Hilary Swank jumps into his arms in the film that was a spur of the moment thing.
Special to this “deluxe edition” is the inclusion of the Million Dollar Baby CD soundtrack. Listening to the musical score by Eastwood you get the feeling that no other composer could have hit those emotional cues. The spirit of the South is ever present in his compositions. An excellent addition to this DVD release.
When you are deciding to buy this film on DVD you should take into account that there is also a 2-disc version of the DVD that contains everything described here, except the musical soundtrack. For my money, though, the addition of Eastwood’s score is warrant enough to purchase the “deluxe edition.” But if you already have the soundtrack, then the regular version may be right for you.
Oh, and if you’re wondering if there are any extras on the first disc, well there is. You can view the film’s theatrical trailer.