My current Top 5

My current Top 5

3/30/2010

Best Actress 2004: Hilary Swank in "Million Dollar Baby"

Hilary Swank received the second Oscar of her career for her role as Maggie Fitzgerald, a woman who aspires to become a professional boxer in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby.

Hilary Swank is certainly not among the greatest actresses ever, but she has the ability to sink her teeth into a certain type of role: an underdog who has to fight for her dreams and gets beaten down more than once.

So it is nor surprise that she is magnificent as Maggie who seems to be too old to be a boxer but too young to give up. She is already doing some boxing and she is winning, but she wants more – she wants to get to the top and she is determined to get Frankie Dunne as her trainer. She openly tells him “If I’m too old for this, then I got nothing” – and this is right. She knows that she is ‘white trash’ and life will never change for her unless she actively tries to change it herself. And boxing is the only thing in her life that makes her feel good.

The first appearances of Maggie make her seem like a rather strange character. Frankie is unwilling to train her, openly rejects her over and over again but she keeps training in his gym, trying to make him change his mind. She calls him “boss” even though he doesn’t want it and she refuses to be trained by anyone else but him. It is never told why Maggie is so interested in having Frankie in her life – because she doesn’t only want a trainer, but also a friend, maybe even a father. It’s not clear why she chose Frankie for this but what does becomes clear is why this woman is so desperate to be loved and accepted – her own family looks down on her for her profession and never show Maggie anything but disinterest. Hilary Swank wonderfully shows how hurt Maggie is when her family rejects her – this strong woman who can beat anyone in the ring grew emotionally lonely. Hilary successfully shows a woman who is desperate to be loved and who tries to reject but also accept her own roots.

Hilary Swank could easily be accused of trying to get the audience’s sympathy by constantly smiling and showing no complaints even when her character is at its lowest. But she wonderfully shows how Maggie’s past in an unloving family turned her into a rather needy character who is looking for acceptance and affection. She throws herself at Frankie’s feet, hoping not only to find a trainer but also a friend. She tries to please everyone but at the same time she also wants her own way as she tells Frankie when she shouts “Don’t you say that if it ain’t true!”

Hilary Swank is able to show both the weakness and the strength of Maggie’s character without jumping back and forth between these two extremes but rather merges them most effectively. From the first moment she appears out of the dark to her last shot, she creates a strong-willed, determinant, but also insecure and uncertain character. Maggie knows what she is worth and what she can achieve but she not sure what life will give her.

Hilary Swank also has a wonderful chemistry with Clint Eastwood. Both lonely in their own way, both comfortable around each other. It’s a relationship that never becomes romantic but they both develop a loving, relaxed and open connection.

The performance by Hilary Swank contrasts of two parts, as far apart from each other as possible. In the first half, she does a lot of physical work while the second part of her performance is completely done by her face. Hilary is able to make both parts of her performance as effective as possible and shows how Maggie never loses her spirits even when her willpower weakens.

The highlight of Hilary’s performance is her final plea to Frankie which is an unforgettable moment. Hilary Swank shows so much with her eyes and delivers every line perfectly. Maggie may have lost her independence but she still wants to decide her life for herself. A wonderful portrayal of a fighter who is ready to stop fighting – and who is not afraid to ask for help.

Hilary is able to make Maggie both a dreamer and a worn-out character at the same time. She combines her hopes and dreams, her fears and disappointments in the greatest way and gets

3 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I've never gotten into this performance, or film. I appreciate that Swank's niche is this sort of character (elucidated more in Boys Don't Cry) but I never am moved to believe Maggie other than as a character Hilary Swank is acting as.

Fritz said...

I know it's not a popular performance and I can easily see why people would not like her, but somehow she is able to completely win me over (and I am a very cynical person normally).

joe burns said...

I thought she had some good moments, but her role felt like a stock one. To me, she is overshadowed by Eastwood and Freeman and that she doesn't do much for Million Dollar Baby. And I'm biased since Kate Winslet's performance in Eternal Sunshine is one of my favorites of all time.