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MILLION DOLLAR BABY

SYNOPSIS:
Legendary veteran boxing trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) lives for his Hit Pit gym, where his old friend, and ex-boxer, Scrap (Morgan Freeman) helps run the place. Frankie argues about god with the local priest and prays daily for help with his demons, especially his guilt over his estranged daughter. He doesn't want any more burdens when a determined 31 year old woman, Maggie (Hilary Swank) turns up asking to be further trained by him, and no one else but him. Besides, Frankie doesn't train girls. But Maggie, with an estranged family and boxing her only burning ambition, wears him down, with a little sidelines help from Scrap, and Frankie starts to shape Maggie into a fiery fighter who moves up fast, and the two form a close bond. Maggie is ready to take a shot at the World Welterweight Championship within 18 months, but when a tragic accident intervenes, Frankie has to make the toughest decision of his long life.

Review by Louise Keller:
A beautifully crafted, emotional tour de force from Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby is a gripping drama that effortlessly tugs at everything that is honest and true. Packaged as a boxing film, this heart-felt exploration of relationships takes you where you never expect to go and allows you to contemplate and struggle with its characters throughout their journey.

'Protect yourself at all times,' is Frankie's philosophy, while the sign on the wall of his gym warns 'Tough ain't enough'. And while boxing may convey images of toughness, Million Dollar Baby simply uses it to lead us to the other side of tough, where vulnerability shimmers like a lake at sunrise. Frankie is disillusioned by the world. He feels guilty that his old pal Scrap (Morgan Freeman) lost an eye in a fight years ago when he was acting as cut-man, and even going to church every day doesn't take him any closer to the redemption he is seeking in the relationship with his estranged daughter. He barely even notices Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) when she comes into his gym and tells her straight away that he doesn't train girls. But Maggie is pursuing her dream and boxing is the only thing that makes her feel good. She is hungry to box and an ultra-fit Swank makes us believe her passion.

But Million Dollar Baby is not a movie about boxing. It is a story about the relationship between Frankie and Maggie, who unexpectedly become vital to each other. Maggie becomes the daughter Frankie has lost, while Frankie becomes Maggie's father, confidant and friend. Their relationship develops slowly, but Frankie is quick to notice her commitment, hard-word and dedication, all of which he admires. It's as though he gets involved despite himself and after all the hard work of training, success in the ring is inevitable.

With his minimalist expression, Eastwood has never been more vulnerable, while Swank brings all the gusto and passion to her enthusiastic bid to reach for her dream. Freeman's Scrap, who narrates the story, is always at the sidelines, and his relationship with Frankie is as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. There's a wonderful scene in which Frankie berates Scrap for wearing socks filled with holes; it is hard to believe how entertaining a scene can be that describes the difference between day socks and night socks that double for day socks, when they become too holey.

There's a moment during the world championship match in Las Vegas, when the entire mood of the film changes. And we are carried by the mood. Like real life, the tempest of trauma whistles for our attention. Haunting, provocative and overwhelmingly moving, Million Dollar Baby is a magnificent work from a masterful filmmaker who keeps delivering hat trick after hat trick.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Clint Eastwood at 75 is just a shade older than Jerry Boyd was when Rope Burns, a series of short stories based on his experiences as a trainer and cut man (fixing boxers' cuts during the fight) was published in 2000, under the pen name of F.X. Toole. I don't know whether Jerry Boyd ever had a real life experience similar to that portrayed in Million Dollar Baby, but the film feels real and its many truths suggest he may have. In any case, armed with a terrific screenplay by Paul Haggis, Clint Eastwood climbs into the character of Frankie Dunn - and stays there. Yet, ironically, the story is told through the eyes of Scrap (Morgan Freeman) who was there every step of the way, in this emotional slippery dip of a story.

And while the story is gripping, it is as gripping as it is because of the performances and the direction. The deconstructed plot, per se, has the predictable story arc of many films that portray people whose determination gets them close to their dreams. But the story has a major twist in the tail, a fateful event that changes this predictable arc into something different. Even with this twist, though, the film could not command the attention it does without exceptional work from the cast.

Hilary Swank is magnificent in a role that demands her all, taking her from abject misery to elation, from boxing champ to bedridden cripple. Morgan Freeman is in familiar territory as the decent and wise old man who almost had a chance but was denied it - a bit of history between him and Frankie, there.

As for Clint Eastwood, he takes Frankie into his darkest places, and while at times, you can almost see the acting, he maintains a level of involvement with the audience through the marriage of his experience, his technique and his talent. As a director, though, he has made a flawless film (from direction through music and style), a haunting story of human happiness and misery that stings us with its pain, but is tempered with the balms of genuine, deep-seated love.

We never learn what caused his estrangement from his daughter Katie, and seeing Maggie as the Katie surrogate in Frankie's life is only partly relevant: what Clintwood is able to do is show that these two people - indeed, three people - have been joined by pain and misery, yet found salvation and redemption through all that. It's not pity but empathy that sweeps over us at the conclusion of Million Dollar Baby.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

MILLION DOLLAR BABY (MA)
(US)

CAST: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Jay Baruchel, Mike Colter, Lucia Rijker, Brian O'Byrne, Bruce MacVittie, Margo Martindale, Riki Lindholme

PRODUCER: Clint Eastwood, Albert S. Ruddy, Tom Rosenberg, Paul Haggis

DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood

SCRIPT: Paul Haggis (stories by F.X. Toole)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tom Stern

EDITOR: Joel Cox ACE

MUSIC: Clint Eastwood

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Henry Bumstead

RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 3, 2005 (advance screenings January 28, 29, 30)







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