Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Paul Haggis, F.X. Toole
Actors: Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman
Halfway through the film Morgan Freeman delivers this line of narration, "To make a fighter you gotta strip them down to bare wood". That is the perfect representation of Million Dollar Baby in my opinion. It is stripped down to bare wood. It is a film which is stripped down to the simplest form. All it has, and all it needs is a great story and great characters. That is it. No need for complicated plot lines or intricate set pieces. Clint Eastwood shows that all you need to make a good movie is a great story and good characters to aid the story. Million Dollar Baby is proof that simple films can always be good no matter how the movie industry evolves, simple story and character driven films will always have a place.
First and foremost, I want to talk about the themes presented in Million Dollar Baby. Although, the themes were very blatant and obvious to catch, they are still worth mentioning because the play a key role in the success of the film. The film tackles themes such as perseverance, where we see the dedication that Maggie brings. She never backs down and she never quits. Her whole life she has been nothing. She has been treated like trash and boxing was the only thing that makes her feel alive and well. Furthermore, we see that Frankie deals with a lot of complex issues throughout the film. He has a big problem of "letting go". He knows himself, and he knows that once he gets attached to something it is hard for him to let it go. For example, he keeps on sending his daughter letters every week even though she always returns them. He even can't help but feel guilty about Eddie's fight which lost him his eye even though it has been a long time. So we see this constant battle with Frankie's inner self. Which is why the final action taken is a really important one, and the reason why Eastwood highlighted it as the climax of the film. By allowing Maggie to die, he is finally doing what he was never able to do, he finally let go of the burden that he carried. Maggie fulfilled her wishes due to Frankie's perseverance. Once he was able to overcome this last hurdle, there was nothing else left for him to do. I think the film manages to convey this concept really well, and I believe it will easily relate to many people watching the film who are undergoing similar situations.
Now let's talk about the acting because it is one of the key elements that carried this film. Million Dollar Baby was carried to greatness by only three characters, Eddie, Frankie, and Maggie. By having these three characters played beautifully by their respective actors, the film was able to achieve the level of greatness it is currently recognized for. Hilary Swank gave an exceptionally brilliant performance. Her performance of Maggie felt so genuine to the point that you forget you are watching a film. You really do feel like she is Maggie Fitzgerald. From the very first scene she is shown the audience can easily gravitate towards her due to the extremely likable performance she presents. Furthermore, Morgan Freeman as well was a clear stand out. Although Freeman is known for his narration in film after his big success in Shawshank, and some people may feel like it is overused. However, with Million Dollar Baby I feel like Freeman reached the peak of what he is able to convey through narration. The way he conveys words really adds to the emotion of the film. Even saying one or two lines can have such a huge impact on the experience of the film. Which is why I feel like without Freeman, this film would not have been nearly as effective as it already is. All in all the acting in the film is great. By confining the entire film to only three characters, we get a more focused experience which is fitting for the story.
Speaking of the story, let us talk about it. The story in this film is one that is very simple, yet if you look deep into it, you are able to see just how complex it is emotionally. If you were to ask me to explain the story of Million Dollar Baby I would probably be able to do it in less than a minute. However, the point of the film is not to have this complex story line with many intertwining events overlapping one another. Rather, the film wants to focus on the character development and the way they interact. By having the audience care for the characters, largely due to the acting as I explained, the become invested in the story. The film manages to put the viewers in a roller coaster of emotions that ends with a harrowing descent into sadness. That final scene where Frankie explains what Mo Cuishle means was heartbreaking and nearly brought me to tears. Eastwood did a brilliant job in stripping down the film to its bare essentials and managing to capture the audience early one so that they are able to experience this ride that we now know as Million Dollar Baby.
I want to try and end this review on a positive note, so I will not talk about what I did not enjoy in this film. To be completely honest there was not much I didn't enjoy, and if I went into that I would be very nit picky. Obviously people have differing preferences and there is nothing wrong with that. So I will refrain from going into the negatives and just say, watch this film. Because I don't believe there is a person who can hate a film like this. It is the simplest form of a film and I find it hard for someone to watch this film and not enjoyed any aspect of it. All in all, Million Dollar Baby is a great success as it manages to show us that film does not need to be complex. It showed us that you can make something great with only three characters and a lot of emotions.