Million Dollar Baby

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


          “Million Dollar Baby” is timeless.  You could have watched it at any time during the last fifty years without knowing when it was made.  It is as far removed as it can possibly be from the current events that roil the world.  It is equally removed from the world immediately outside the door of Frankie’s Gym.  It is a story of three people, quietly told, who have only each other, each having at heart only the well being of the others. 

            The acting performances by Clint Eastwood as Frankie Dunn, Hilary Swank as Maggie, and Morgan Freeman as Scrap are flawless and moving.  For the most part, Scrap narrates the story with an economy of words and feeling, but you soon realize he understands Frankie better than Frankie does himself.  With Scrap as guide, interpreter, and enabler to his friends, the movie moves to Swank and Eastwood.  Their success in touching us lies in the fact that neither of them overplays these unselfish characters.  Eastwood, who I learned to love as Rowdy Yates in “Rawhide” some three decades ago, has directed, produced, starred in this movie.  He also wrote the music that carries the mood so well.  When a theater is slowly moved to absolute silence, it’s time to recognize that this private man knows well how to reach the hearts of his audience. 

          Hilary Swank’s Maggie is pure and vulnerable; she’s a young woman from Missouri, abandoned emotionally by a nasty family.  Her only way up and out, she has decided, is to become a champion boxer in the women’s ring.  She presses Frankie quietly but relentlessly, until he agrees reluctantly to train her to fight.  By the time Maggie’s background is revealed in flashback, we care enough to feel the collective heartbreak of a whole theater.  Ms. Swank, without theatrics, claims us.

          I say this instead of describing the story in the hope that if you are tempted to dismiss a movie about a woman boxer, you will change your mind in order not to miss one of the best movies of this year.  Miss this one, and you’re missing a lot.  This is not about boxing; it is about friendship.

          In addition to the performances, everything else is first rate.  Frankie’s gym, home to Frankie and Scrap, is a rundown training room where Scrap does the custodial work and provides the place with heart while Frankie trains a few regular boxers.  “People love violence,” Frankie says, “but boxing is about respect – keep your own and take it away from the other guy.” 

          The beauty of Eastwood and Swank and Freeman lies not in what they say but in the repetition of small acts of loyalty and devotion.  All three of them give us permission to feel the emotions we usually bury deeply.  It is – how many ways can it be said – an affecting movie that adds a new dimension to our thinking about people who are pure.  It’s a story of transcendent friendship.    

 


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