Million Dollar Baby

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MILLION DOLLAR BABY —–MAGGIE: “I’ve got nobody but you, Frankie.”  FRANKIE: “Well, you’ve got me.”

Clint Eastwood knocked down his 2nd pair of Oscars for Best Picture and Director with this 2004 heartbreaker, which also gave Hilary Swank her 2nd trophy as Best Actress and Morgan Freeman his first, as Supporting Actor. Clint also nabbed his 2nd Best Actor nomination, and the Screenplay (Paul Haggis) and Film Editing (Joel Cox) were also listed. The $18,000,000 production, which Clint shot in 37 days, came in 24th place in the States, and had a worldwide gross of $216,764,000.

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Boxing trainer ‘Frankie Dunn’ (Eastwood) owns the ‘Hit Pit’, a scraping-by gym for wannabe fighters he runs with punched-it-all “Scrap-Iron” Dupris’ (Morgan Freeman). Among the self-fooling characters who train there is ‘Maggie Fitzgerald’ (Swank), a 30-year-old waitress who left her trailer-trash family behind in the dim hope of making it in the ring. After sparring over her chances, Frankie reluctantly gives in to the sincere good nature and dead-set determination Maggie shows, then finds she has untapped talent to go with her grit. In his narration, Scrap relays that Maggie came from “somewhere between nowhere and goodbye”. Unspoken is that the road to redemption runs through reckoning.

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Movies set in the boxing world generally either take the dead-end angle (The Set-Up, The Harder They Fall, Fat City) or the triumph pitch (Somebody Up There Likes Me, Rocky, Cinderella Man, Ali ): this one packs a wallop because the relationships are so finely etched in the script and so perfectly acted that we care more what happens with & to Frankie, Maggie and Scrap than over the excitement of bouts or reveals about the trade. Though the screenplay has pithy observations on the fight game that deftly mix poetry and practicality, boxing is incidental: it’s about self-respect and acceptance.

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Definitely one of Eastwood’s best performances—even those who don’t care for him would be hard put to say he isn’t darn good here, and Freeman is the Rock of Gibraltar.  Swank, though, is just wonderful, creating a character so honest and winning that you wish you could meet Maggie in real life.

The script was adapted from “Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner”, written by former cut-man and boxing manager Jerry Boyd, under his pen name F.X. Toole. Swank was trained by Lucia Rijker, a champion welterweight and world-champ kickboxer who plays the fierce opponent ‘Billie the Blue Bear’.

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With Jay Baruchel, Mike Colter, Bryan F. O’Byrne, Anthony Mackie (you will love to see him get coldcocked), Margo Martindale (the worthless Momma, ‘Earline’), Michael Péna, Benito Martinez, Riki Lindhome. 132 minutes.

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