Movie: Million Dollar Baby(2004) Oscar Throwback

My Thoughts While Watching:

I feel as if the first time I watched this movie I would have rated it a 3 and although I cried, did not find it to excel.  On this watching of the movie, all of my feelings for this film have changed.

*****Spoilers*****Spoilers*****Spoilers*****Spoilers*****

We start with the soothing narrating voice of Morgan Freeman who tells us: People love violence. They will stop at a car wreck to check for bodies. I was not sure how I would feel with Freeman narrating and simultaneously playing a prominent role in the movie but I found that I appreciated it greatly.  He guides us through the world of a fight trainer who, after not throwing in the towel for a defeated fighter that lost one eye to the fight, finds himself hesitating to push any other fighters as far as they can go – to the title.  That fighter who lost his eye, we find, was Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris (Morgan Freeman).  When Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is approached by Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank) to act as her coach, he quickly turns her down, stating: I don’t train girls… Tough ain’t enough.

We realize throughout the movie that Frankie has been cut off from his daughter, who returns every letter he has sent her over the years.  The burden of guilt over Dupris losing his vision weighs heavy on him.  And between the two he suffers a crisis of faith.  Having not missed a day of mass in 23 years, he has taken to antagonizing the priest with questions ranging from the holy trinity to the immaculate conception. Maggie ends up being his redemption and his curse.

As a sub-story, we see a young boy, abandoned by everyone, who befriends Dupris and believes he is being trained to fight.  His fight name is Danger (Jay Baruchel) and he is anything but dangerous.  He is the movie’s depiction of “all heart”.  In comparison, there is Shawrelle Berry (Anthony Mackie) who is all talent with a heart “the size of a pea”.  The bigger of the two is Shawrelle who taunts and teases and eventually lures Danger into the ring where he beats Danger to a pulp, mocking him throughout the scene.  Danger disappears down a dark alley.  Before the end of the movie, like with all great moments of hope, he returns to us to give us comfort and to drive home the point that even though challenged, the downtrodden can rise back up.

When the narrator details how Maggie views herself, he states: She grew up knowing one thing: she was trash. From her mannerisms to her hick accent, Maggie was the epitome of southern trash.  What distinguished her from her god awful family though, was her drive and her work ethic (I can’t live without my welfare!).  Frankie eventually takes Maggie on and she rises through the ranks to be a world premiere fighter.  As she prepares to step into the big arena to fight the number two in the world, Frankie gifts her a robe to wear into the ring with the embroidered words Mo Cuishle.  She was fighting in the UK and as she stepped out of the locker room to make her way to the ring the crowd erupted with cheers for the new Irish fighter.  They chanted Cuishle! Cuishle!

Maggie, finally ready to fight the title holder, is the one everyone roots for.  The title holder is an ass, who cheats at every turn and when Maggie has turned her head – pushes her.  Maggie trips and falls, hitting the stool with her neck, paralyzing her.  We witness Frankie caring for her through all of the roughest of days and when she turns her family away (who are looking for yet another handout), she turns to Frankie and asks him what is impossible for a good-faith Catholic to do – help her die. She has already told him throughout the movie that she is on her own (I’ve got no one but you, Frankie.) and he has seen the family and how they treat her.  He repeatedly tells her: Please don’t ask me.  He turns to the antagonized priest who tries to convince him that, setting aside the sin, Frankie is the kind of person to never recover from this type of action.  Dupris has another take, he reminds Frankie: People die every day: mopping floors and washing dishes and you know what their last thought is? I wish I had my shot. He goes on to reinforce with Frankie that Maggie has had her shot and that to die now would not be the worst thing as she has already seen the world and did the things she set out to do.

In the end, he comes to help her.  As he prepares to let her die, he tells her the meaning of Mo Cuishle “It means My Darling, My Blood”, he kisses her forehead one last time and removes the air tube…

At this moment, let me tell you, I was a BLUBBERING fool.  The movie took me on a journey and in the end beautifully punched me in the gut.

As we fade out we see Dupris, at Frankie’s old desk at the gym and we realize that his narration was actually a letter he was writing to Frankie’s daughter to let her know what kind of man her father really is.

I think this was an Oscar-worthy movie.  It was up against: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray and Sideways.  I have seen the others and am totally in agreement with this one.

I would like to pause and mention the cinematography for this film.  Eastwood utilized light against bleak darkness during pivotal scenes.  When Dupris first approaches Maggie (who is working the bag late into the night, long after the gym is empty), he is only lit from the waste down as he speaks.  When he decides that he is going to help her, he walks into the light while still giving dialogue.  Eastwood did the exact same for the first real interaction between Frankie and Maggie.  Frankie was also in identical half light and then once he made his decision, he walked into full light while speaking.  During the final scenes there was a similar play on the lights: Frankie is sitting in his car, outside the medical facility, steeling himself for what he is about to do.  His face is lit in half from forehead to chin.  One side completely lit, one side completely in darkness.  A few scenes later, as Dupris is hidden from sight, watching Frankie leave the room after Maggie is dead, Freeman’s face is lit in the exact same way.  I loved how he used light v dark at first and at the end, both times pivoting from refusal to be a part of something to fully accepting what is getting ready to happen as well as binding together Frankie and Dupris, the first to suffer from fight decisions.

I would highly suggest this movie.  It is not a family movie (in the least), keep that in mind when selecting what to watch.

Some Interviews and Extra Video:

IMDB Synopsis: A determined woman works with a hardened boxing trainer to become a professional.

Starring:

Lead Actress:  Hilary Swank (won for best actress)

 Lead Actor:   Clint Eastwood

Supporting Male:   Morgan Freeman (won for best supporting actor)

Others of note:   Jay Baruchel, Mike Colter, Anthony Mackie, Margo Martindale and Michael Peña

Director:  Clint Eastwood (won for best director)

*******************************************************************

1 Ugh – 2 Meh – 3 I don’t hate it? – 4 That was solid. – 5 Loved It!

Cinematography: 5 – I actually loved the way Eastwood used light against darkness at pivotal moments during the movie.

Costume Design: 3

Film Editing: (nominated, lost to The Aviator) 4 – The movie was not too choppy, it was well thought out.

Makeup and Hairstyling: 4 – the fight scenes were quite remarkable.

Music: 4

Production Design:  4

Sound Editing/Mixing: 3

Writing: (nominated, lost to Sideways) 4 – All of the characters, their storylines and the backdrop were all believable.

Overall score: 31 out of 40 (not too shabby)

*******************************************************************

Trailer:

Additional Movie Info:

It received a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 90% Fresh.  It received a Rotten Tomato audience rating of 90% liking it.  Average Rating: 3.8/5 with a number of User Ratings: 404,482.

Movie Reviews:

Specs:  Release date: 28 January 2005 (USA) / Runtime: 132 minutes / Budget: $30M

IMDB Trivia:

  • Boxing and kick-boxing champion Lucia Rijker, who also plays the part of Billie “The Blue Bear” in the film, was Hilary Swank’s boxing coach.
  • At age 74, Clint Eastwood became the oldest Best Director Oscar winner for this movie.
  • Clint Eastwood read the script and said “It’s a downer…but God, it’s gorgeous”.
  • “Mo chuisle” literally means “my pulse,” but can mean “my love” or “my darling”. It’s a term of endearment taken from the original phrases “A chuisle mo chroí” or “Pulse of my heart”.
  • The movie is based on three short stories from Jerry Boyd’s short stories: “The Monkey Look,” “Million $$$ Baby” and “Frozen Water.” Some parts of the introduction were used as well.
  • Played in theaters for six and a half months.
  • This is the 25th film Clint Eastwood has directed, the 57th film in which he has acted, and the 21st he has produced.
  • Maggie’s checkbook ledger contains an entry for Michael Sexton, the film’s property master.
  • The term “million dollar baby” actually refers to the nose art on a World War II B24 heavy bomber.
  • Morgan Eastwood: “Little girl in truck” is Clint Eastwood’s daughter.
  • Probably one of the key features to the film being such a success was that no one had divulged the gutpunch twist that occurs towards the end of the movie, taking it in a whole new direction. People were going to see what they thought was a female boxing movie, and coming out overwhelmed by having seen a searing account of euthanasia.

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