Ten years after the fact it still surprises me that actor/director Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” (2004) got itself embroiled in the then-red hot national debate over assisted suicide. The story of an aging trainer running on fumes and a mountain girl with one last chance had nothing to do with politics. This was a story about people …. about a tender father-daughter relationship between two lost and lonely people that you’re led to believe might save them before it all goes so horribly wrong.
Eastwood is Frankie, a Los Angeles-based gym owner and trainer well into his seventies and unable to forgive himself for something that is left to our imagination. It involves a daughter who will have nothing to do with him. That is all we are ever told.
Into Frankie’s life walks Maggie (Hilary Swank) Her family troubles are different than his, but no less tragic. Like many who embrace the Sweet Science, Maggie is dirt-poor and sees fighting and taking a beating as her only real shot at a life that doesn’t involve welfare and a trailer. Frankie doesn’t train “girls.” But Maggie’s unassuming decency and determination would win anyone over.
Then comes the tragic moment that reminds us of that slender thread holding up all of our lives. Frankie is left to make an impossible choice that he’s told could cost him his eternal soul.
“Million Dollar Baby” won a ton of Oscars, including best Picture, director, actress (Swank), and supporting actor (Morgan Freeman) and deserves every one of them. Eastwood’s leisurely storytelling style, which can sometimes work against him, is a perfect fit for a story about the human condition, complicated relationships, and characters we care about and root for.
The story isn’t perfect, just near-perfect. The Priest character is the biggest flaw; something Eastwood seemed to apologize for with a similar but much more just character in “Gran Torino.”
The widescreen presentation, Tom Stern’s cinematography, and Eastwood’s simple and simply perfect score really benefit from the Bluray transfer.
‘Million Dollar Baby’ is available on Bluray at Amazon.com.