After Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby was Clint Eastwood’s second triumph at the Oscars. It tells the story of female boxer Maggie Fitzgerald who convinces a reluctant Frankie Dunn to train her – Maggie’s natural talents help her to get straight to the top until a tragic accident changes her – and Frankie’s – life forever.
Million Dollar Baby is a beautiful, quiet character study that mostly revolves around Frankie and Maggie. Both are lonely souls, rejected by their relatives, struggling to get ahead. Clint Eastwood staged this story in a very dark environment – shadows hide the character’s faces, people appear out of the dark. It’s a very gloomy story that even in Maggie’s most triumphant moments keeps a very quiet and intimate atmosphere. It’s the strength of the performers and the wonderful use of music of cinematography that creates this wonderful aura that dominates this movie and it’s to Clint Eastwood’s credit that he was able to build and keep it for the entire running time.
Million Dollar Baby achieves to be both extremely moving and very entertaining. The combination of boxing scenes and human drama works extremely well, even if the focus is always on the characters. Boxing itself plays an important part in the story but at the same time it always seems to be only the basis for the emotional aspects. Boxing brings Maggie and Frankie together, boxing is their life and ultimately their defeat. Eastwood manages to bring the characters very close to the viewers at the end which also makes the final scenes of the movie so moving.
There is need for some criticism: the script and Eastwood’s direction do tend to present a too simple ‘good vs. bad’- structure in the story. Maggie’s family couldn’t be more stereotypical just like Billie ‘The Blue Bear’, the boxer who will bring Maggie down. Especially compared to the almost saint-like Maggie, these characters stand out drastically. I have to admit that all this does work in the context of the story – the fate of Maggie makes it easy to sympathize with her but these characters leave a bad taste in my mouth whenever the movie is over. There is also some criticism regarding the ending of the movie – but I disagree that it sends a wrong kind kind of message. Maggie isn’t supposed to be a symbol but instead makes a decision that feels right for her – and if this is her decision there is no reason to criticise it.
Overall, Million Dollar Baby is a haunting, moving but also entertaining drama that achieves to connect with the audience on a very personal level thanks to the two central characters.