(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Million Dollar Baby (2004)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Maggie Fitzgerald wants to be a fighter and be trained by Frankie, but she has to overcome his sexism and prove herself.
Why It’s on the List:
I am going to explicitly state that I’m going to spoil the ending of this movie because I can’t talk about why it’s on the list otherwise. This is an underdog sports movie until it isn’t. There are some incredible moments of banter. Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood have an easygoing chemistry and it’s easy to believe them as long-term friends. Hilary Swank holds her own and excels in her interactions with Clint Eastwood. She also has a tremendous physical presence and it’s a shame she hasn’t had a more consistently fulfilling career. This movie even features Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena, and Jay Barachel in early roles. Mackie specifically shows a level of charisma that I really haven’t seen since.
When it comes to Clint Eastwood, it would be dishonest of me to not have his filmography represented on my list. I’m not a fan of his politics, and I find some of his movies to be morally repugnant. However, there was a time when I absolutely watched the Dirty Harry movies and enjoyed them despite myself. I certainly would not be able to watch and enjoy them at this point. I think this movie is really notable for the way it follows the path of an underdog sports movie, right down to the classical score…and then of the most incredible moments I’ve ever seen happens when Maggie snaps her neck on the stool. I didn’t realize until this re-watch just how many shots there are of the stool being put into the ring. It happens an awful lot. The last 45 minutes are heartbreaking as Maggie’s family is fully realized as the monsters they are. Character actress Margo Martindale is absolutely chilling as the mother.
I really admire many aspects of Million Dollar Baby even though Clint Eastwood and Paul Haggis are problematic individuals. I’m glad three of the younger actors have gone onto great success. Hilary Swank showed her ability as an actor and action star. I walked out of the movie theater in 2004 and thought this was the best film of that year. I still believe it’s right up there as one of the best.
*Barachel very clearly has some sort of mental disability but also uses the “n” word on two occasions.
*Maggie wanting to kill herself and not wanting to live as a disabled is certainly a choice. This is worth a lot more conversation than I can bring to the table as an able-bodied person.
*Clint Eastwood himself is a very problematic individual for a wide variety of reasons. The way he treated one of his ex-wives to talking to an empty chair on national television.
*Just Google Paul Haggis. Goodness, there’s a lot there.
MVP: Clint Eastwood was able to craft a movie that was part underdog sports movie, part statement on euthanasia. This is one of the more nuanced films he’s ever directed and despite his own personal issues, this really is his finest work as an actor and director.
Best Performance: Hilary Swankis so damn good in this movie. I think her Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry is almost a blemish given where we’re at with casting and finding the appropriate people to play certain roles. This film is not without controversy, but I think the problematic elements are more the responsibility of the director and star. I haven’t really mentioned Morgan Freeman, but he narrated the movie (in the form of a letter to Dunn’s daughter), so the movie definitely has that going for it.
Best Quote: “I’m 32, Mr. Dunn, and I’m here celebrating the fact that I spent another year scraping dishes and waitressing which is what I’ve been doing since 13, and according to you, I’ll be 37 before I can even throw a decent punch, which I have to admit, after working on this speed bag for a month getting nowhere may be the God’s simple truth. Other truth is, my brother’s in prison, my sister cheats on welfare by pretending one of her babies is still alive, my daddy’s dead, and my momma weighs 312lbs. If I was thinking straight, I’d go back home, find a used trailer, buy a deep fryer and some oreos. Problem is, this the only thing I ever felt good doing. If I’m too old for this, then I got nothing. That enough truth to suit you?” -Maggie Fitzgerald
Is there a sequel? Would be awfully hard to have one.