Let me admit it straight away: I saw Clint Eastwood’s Million dollar baby 15 years after it came out (2004). At the end of the vision I felt as if Hillary Swank had hit me with one of her stomach punches: this film impressed me, moved me, and even made me feel a little angry. I’ll explain below trying to avoid spoilers as usual, although in this case it will be a bit difficult, I’m afraid!
Apparently, Million dollar baby came to Clint Eastwood after a few years in development hell: the script had been read and discarded by potential producers and directors for years, until Clint Eastwood decided to invest all of himself in this story. So the then 74-year-old Clint both directed the movie and co-starred in it with Hillary Swank and Morgan Freeman after declaring that yes, it was a very sad story, but also very beautiful. And let’s talk about this story!
Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is an old boxing trainer who runs a small gym on the outskirts of Los Angeles, avoiding the popular stages despite his skills and the remarkable talents he has in his hands. Eddie Scrap-Iron Durbis (Morgan Freeman) helps him: he’s a former boxer who stays in that gym day and night. One day, Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank), a 30-year-old from Missouri, begins to train in the gym by herself: she has no experience whatsoever, but shows great potential. She’s a sort of rough diamond, but Frankie nevertheless refuses to help her. Her perseverance will eventually convince old Dunn and eventually he accepts training her and being her manager. Under his protective wing, Maggie will find a success she never would have expected in life.
Of course the story doesn’t end here: this film isn’t the stylish and feminine version of neither The karate kid (1984) nor Rocky (1976). One part of Million dollar baby is a story of social revenge of a person coming from the so-called white trash of the US countryside and who lives the American dream of having fame and success thanks to her efforts. But Million dollar baby also tells the stories of people who never get to that success, and who instead live sad, lonely, and gloomy lives. The narrator of the story, Eddie, is very poor and blind in one eye, and apparently Frankie blames himself for that. Frankie too is sad and lonely, feeling guilty for who know how many other things (just think of his relationship with his daughter).
And then, needless to say, this is a film about euthanasia. The theme is very delicate and Eastwood treats it very intelligently, demonstrating yet again that he’s much better than what his political declarations suggest. The film is a continuous crescendo of emotions and tension until when everything falls down from the peak of success to the hellish situation of the finale. And that fall leaves the viewer breathless: the final part of the movie is chilling, Frankie has to make a tough decision and it will be inevitable to ask ourselves: what would I do in his place? A powerful question, a question that makes us think about the nature of life, about what we want to make of it, and how to live with the consequences of our actions. I get the creeps even now as I’m writing this, the movie is so powerful!
I really enjoyed Million dollar baby: dark from beginning to end, showing us a gloomy world (not too different from that of the previous Eastwood film, the equally beautiful Mystic river, 2003). I didn’t like certain things, like the totally redundant narrative voice of the very good Morgan Freeman: the splendid images of the film make Durbis’ words spoken off-screen completely useless, and I believe that a version of the film without a narrator would result equally deep and would even flow better. But of course this is a matter of taste, and I tend to prefer things not being told or explained like that in a movie.
In any case, Million dollar baby goes straight among the best films directed by Clint Eastwood for me and I cannot wait to watch it again, although I know that the ending (with the revelation of the meaning of Mo cuishle…) will move me to tears just like the first time I saw it. Ciao!