Million Dollar Baby review by Geoff Roberts

Geoff Roberts

Million Dollar Baby is the rare film set in the boxing world that connects with a knockout punch with audiences. Unless a film is Raging Bull or Norman Jewison’s The Hurricane or Will Smith in Ali the public stays away from films that have boxing as part of their story arch. Cinderella Man is a prime example of a critically acclaimed movie about Heavyweight Champion James J. Braddock that ought to have connected with audiences but didn’t. Luckily audiences got what Million Dollar Baby was about and the film went on to win Clint Eastwood a Best Director award, the film Best Picture and Best Actress for Hilary Swank and Supporting Actor for Morgan Freeman at this year’s Academy Awards.

Clint Eastwood is Frankie Dunn a veteran trainer who has seen just about everything the sport can throw at him. He has seen the pratfalls of the sport and warns all of his fighters to protect themselves at all times. It is a rule he sees broken all the time in the ring and is likely his motto because he himself has trouble protecting himself from being crushed by allowing people to get close to him. Eastwood’s character protects himself at all times by never dropping down his guard. It is a great metaphor for the character’s approach to life let alone the ring.

Frankie is estranged from his only daughter for reasons not initially understood. He has one friend in the entire world in Scrap (Morgan Freeman) who as an ex-fighter can see there isn’t much fight in Eastwood himself and that Frankie’s constant soul searching trying to find out how to connect with his estranged daughter is the one 12 rounder he might keep on losing for eternity Frankie looks after the gym in exchange for a place to stay.

In walks the one person who Frankie doesn’t want to see her name is Maggie. She is female and that poses a problem reminding him of his own daughter. Maggie (Hilary Swank) is determined to win over Frankie and get his approval first of all and have him train her t o the championship second of all. Frankie is none too thrilled about having a girl in his gym but finds that Maggie’s devotion and friendship will lead to the ultimate test of all answering the question how far will someone go for a friend.

The film is wonderfully done with narration from Freeman and just the right touch of humor in sensitive moments. The boxing sequences aren’t drawn out and just happen to be a backdrop for the real drama of the story and character development. Boxing seems to be a metaphor on life for each of the characters. They all have a fight to win and like Damon Runyon once wrote they know that life is 6-5 against them but they keep on anyway. Adding further credibility to the picture is one of boxing’s pound for pound best female fighter’s Lucia Rijker who is a kick-boxing champion, fencing champion and fight coordinator for the film. She plays the pivotal role of Billie Blue Jean and adds the right ferocious touches to her scenes without detracting from the real story behind the entire movie. If audiences love this film in theaters and on DVD they should go out and embrace Cinderella Man for the exact same reason.

Eastwood is great in a role that only he or Paul Newman could have pulled off with their gruff exterior but warm hearts. Swank will tug at your heart strings and audiences will warm to her character early. Ironically the part of Frankie Dunn was originally cast for Morgan Freeman who figured playing Frankie’s friend Scrap would be a better choice of role.

Freeman is at the top of his game but look out for character actor Jay Baruchel as Danger Barch a wannabe fighter who is neither dangerous and lacks fight in him. He adds the subtle comedic touches that need to take away from the intensity of the drama.

The film is based on actual accounts of the events in veteran cut-man Jerry Boyd who wrote under the name F.X. Toole. His story from his last novel before his death at age 70 entitled Million Dollar Baby from his only work Rope Burns that was published after 40 years worth of rejections. His second novel was never finished and he did not get to see the success of this film.

The Disc

Wonderful movie, excellent cast, flawlessly executed and scripted.

Picture Quality 10/10

The picture quality is flawless and a perfect transfer that looks exactly like the print seen in theaters it is recommended that viewers purchase or rent the 2:35.1 anamorphic widescreen version which adds to their ability to enjoy the boxing sequences in the film. Scenes with shadow and darkness and carefully lighted and executed. Viewers won’t notice that the film has been touched up around the edges. Dark scenes have a gloomy quality while positive scenes have a brightness to them that is perfectly captured on the disc.

Sound Quality 10/10

The audio is crisp and clean as a whistle. If you have the system to support and make full use of Dolby Surround Sound 5.1 you will really enjoy this disc. You can hear that the music adds just the right touch and that punches actually do connect and create pain and give a sense of what it is truly like to win or get beaten up round after round in a prize fight. Every pin drop and footstep is heard. The sound is flawlessly executed and delivered on a silver platter.

Easter Eggs:

No Easter Eggs were found on the disc but with all the bonus features it likely will not matter to those who purchase an otherwise wonderful disc.

Extra Features 6/10

First it ought to be noted that viewers should not shell out for the three disc deluxe edition of the film. Sadly there isn’t much that is deluxe about it or not presented on the regular full-screen or widescreen version of the disc. Although the deluxe edition has a CD soundtrack included that while beautifully done can be bought from any record store and does not justify shelling out more money just to have a deluxe set that really is not deluxe. It contains only 1 hour worth of bonus material you likely have seen or won’t bother missing..

Be sure to watch the 20 minute documentary Born To Fight on the disc. It is a gem and is hosted by Lucia Rijker who fights Christy Martin July 30th in the most historic of all female boxing events for the biggest prize ever of one million dollars. Rijker relates to viewers just what it is like to fight in the ring and how this movie draws from the lives of real fighters.

The 13 minute “The Producers Round 15" feature that goes behind the scenes with the producers only has one good story in it. The story of how much prodding it took for Toole to consent to a movie version of his work shortly before he died is an interesting one.

Like the late Brian Linehan James Lipton best known for Inside The Actor’s Studio takes a lot of heat for his long winded questions that don’t always go deep enough beyond the surface hosts a 25 minute roundtable interview that unlike his show tells us nothing that couldn’t be gleaned from print interviews and television interviews the actors and director have done previously.


Hilary Swank trained and ate like a professional boxer for the film. She gained 20 pound during the production.

Watch closely for a paid for product placement by Donald Trump who is heavily involved in boxing. The print ad for the Apprentice will appear on the side of the bus Maggie boards during the film. Clint Eastwood’sdaughter plays the little girl in the truck.

Clint Eastwood based the voice of his character on producer Albert S. Ruddy. Angelica Huston brought the book Rope Burns to producer Ruddy who was to have her direct the picture but by the time it was green lighted Huston was tied up on another project.

Hilary Swank was not the first choice for Maggie. Sandra Bullock had been cast and had a director she wanted attached to the project. She ended up bowing out to make the dreadful Miss Congeniality 2.

Eastwood tips his hat to Marlon Brando have a look for the neon sign of the café Maggie works at. It’s called “On The Waterfront.”


Be sure to see this film. All the hype surrounding it and the awards it has won are warranted. Although the backdrop is boxing there is a real drama here that will tug at your heart strings and inspire even those with the coldest of hearts to see the value of friendship and love.

8 out of 10 Jackasses
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