Oscars Challenge #43: Million Dollar Baby (2004) Movie Review
From the brilliant director, Clint Eastwood comes a sports drama that is so hard to watch, not because of its graphic scenes, but because you can't help but sympathize with the characters.
Seriously, this movie will make you cry. You may need to grab those tissues before taking this film on.
This film follows the story of Maggie Fitzgerald, a waitress in her early thirties. She shows up in Hit Pit, a gym run by Frankie Dunn. He works as a trainer and is estranged from his daughter. Maggie asks Frankie to train her to fight, but he always refuses because he doesn't teach women, and she is deemed too old to start a boxing career. Scrap Dupris, Frankie's friend and employee, encourages Maggie and helps her kickstart her training. Frankie loses his prized fighter to another big-shot trainer and is now forced to train her.
Maggie's fighting tactic always results in quick KOs. This resorts to Frankie bribing other managers to put their trainees to fight. Scrap is concerned because Frankie seems to avoid big fights for Maggie, even though the pay will be higher. He arranges a meeting with Mickey Mack, another trainer, but she declines his offer. Frankie gives Maggie a robe with a Mo Cuishle sign. The two travel to Europe, and she continues to win her fights. Eventually, she saves enough money to buy her mother and sister a house. Her mother accepts the offer but berates her for endangering her government aid.
Frankie arranges a title fight against the current WBA women's champion, Billie Osterman, an ex-prostitute and a fighter known for her dirty tactics. The battle ensues, and Maggie dominates by using different tactics to confuse her opponent. However, Billie hits her with an illegal sucker punch after the bell that breaks Maggie's neck. She was rushed to the hospital, and the injury resulted in her needing a ventilator and loss of motor.
Frankie takes care of Maggie and looks forward to seeing her family. They arrived right after visiting Disneyland and were accompanied by an attorney. The reason why they visited her is for her assets to be transferred to them. She orders them to leave and not see her again.
Maggie soon developed bedsores and had to amputate her legs due to an infection. She asks Frankie to help her die and says that she got everything she wanted in life. He refuses, and one night she bites off her tongue, but the doctors are able to save her just in time. Frankie seeks advice from a priest and tells him that he will never be the same if he agrees with Maggie's request. One night, he sneaks into the hospital, unaware that Scrap is watching him. He injects a shot of adrenaline into Maggie and tells her the meaning of Mo Cuishle. Maggie dies soon after. The movie ends with a short narration from Scrap that Frankie never returned to the gym.
First, incredible performances from Hillary Swank, Clint Eastwood, and Morgan Freeman. But it was Ms. Swank that took over the film. She deserved to win the Best Actress award. And if you have a movie with narration coming from Morgan Freeman, you know it is something else. Another surprising thing is the one that played Luke Cage in the Netflix series, Mike Colter, has a minor role in this film as Frankie's trainee.
I like that the film kept its subtle emotion combined with slow-paced background music. It's very pure and simple. It has a harmonic feel that when it gets to the dramatic part, it hits you really hard, like a straight punch to the gut. When you combine it with the actor's performances, it brings in so much more. It lifts you and pulls you back down.
The story may not be similar to Rocky's, with a typical rags-to-riches theme that ends well for the main character, but this one is not. Even though I prefer it to be like that, I think it's also nice to have a bit of tragedy. I also believe that this might be one of those rare and underrated movies that should be appreciated out of all the Academy Award Best Picture winners.
It may be weird to say it, but the ending sequence, although tragic and too painful to watch, puts the icing on the cake. I honestly like that because it is different. It's not the usual glory after a tragedy.
This film might not suit everyone's taste because of its heavy dramatic scenes. So, if you are looking for an easy watch, skip this one. But hey, if you are a Clint Eastwood or Morgan Freeman fan, you can try this one for a change.
This movie deserves a solid 4 out of 5 stars.