Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
Extras: Behind the Scenes, Roundtable Discussions, Featurette

Clint Eastwood stars as boxing trainer Frankie Dunn, in the story of female boxer Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) determined to fulfill her one and only dream of becoming a champion, in the Academy Award winning "Million Dollar Baby". Eastwood directs this tale, based upon stories from "Rope Burns" by F.X. Toole-a pseudonym for veteran boxing manager Jerry Boyd- and screenplay by Paul Haggis.

After attending a boxing match one evening, Frankie is approached by Maggie who asks if he would consider training her, as she hopes to one day become a success at the sport of boxing. Frankie, a straightforward and often-times appearing a little crabby in nature, tells Maggie that he does not train girls to fight, period. Not accepting Frankie’s answer and determined to prove him wrong, she shows up at his gym and begins to train with or without his help.

Training intensely day and night until one day she gathers the attention of one time champ turned gym caretaker, Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris (Morgan Freeman), who lives in a small apartment at the gym, starts to admire the determination shown within her. Eddie then lends some assistance to Maggie by loaning her some equipment so she can further increase her training regiment in the form of a speed bag, one owned by Frankie himself. This brings more attention to Maggie’s efforts and causes Frankie to once again communicate to Maggie that he does not train women to box, not even females as determined as her, even though you can start to see the fondness that is forming between the two.

Presenting Frankie a personal disappointment is the departure of one of his fighters, Big Willie Little (Mike Colter) to competing manager Mickey Mack (Bruce Mac Vittie) sighting a better chance at a championship title, if he leaves Frankie for Mickey Mack. While appreciating the eight years that Frankie had invested in him, Big Willie, would eventually go on to win a World championship title, without Frankie’s involvement. This leaves Frankie to question why he never entered Big Willie into several high-profile fights, which could have given him a better chance to further his fighting career.

While considering the possibility of taking on a new fighter to train, Frankie decides to give Maggie a chance, and given his age, this would probably be his last shot at producing a World championship fighter. On the evening of Maggie’s 32nd Birthday, Frankie sets forth his plan for her, stating that he would agree to train her, but only until another trainer or manager comes along that could take her all the way to a championship title.

Maggie trains hard, day and night, until one day Frankie sets her up with manager Sally Mendoza (Ned Eisenberg) for her first real fighting match. During the fight, Frankie tries hard not to interfere after witnessing the poor performance shown by Maggie, until his competitiveness takes over and he intervenes in the fight telling Sally that he wants to take Maggie back on. Elevated by Frankie’s change-of-heart, Maggie then turns the loosing fight around in her favor to win it by a knockout!

It didn’t take Maggie long to reach her stride, going on to develop a reputation of winning fights by knockout, during the first round. Seeing the drive and winning spirit possessed by Maggie, Frankie decides to move her up in class to take on tougher fighters. At first, this proves to be a mistake, after Maggie suffers a broken nose, which Frankie "pops" back into place so she can continue to fight, rather than be disqualified. (This scene is sure make even the toughest individual squirm) Maggie then goes on to capture yet another win in the boxing ring. After yielding her twelfth straight win, offers start to surface from all across the World, resulting in Maggie taking on fights from all over Europe as well as the United States.

Returning home, Maggie looks to gain some parental approval and support from her mother as she decides to spend some of the financial gains, which she has accumulated, to buy her mother a modest home. Thinking her mother would be proud of her accomplishments, and the fact that she is helping her family to finally move out of a low-income trailer park, Maggie discovers that her mother is more concerned with the thought of loosing her monthly welfare payments, if the government discovers that she owns a home, even though Maggie is offering her additional monthly support. Disappointed at her family’s reaction and feeling embarrassed about her poor "white trash" background, Maggie decides its time to return to L.A. with Frankie. During the ride back to the city, Maggie professes to Frankie in a heart-felt way, that he is all that she has in life, and you start to see the bond that is forming between the two, not just as trainer and athlete, but as true friends.

With Maggie’s success continuing to climb and the growing pressure to fight tougher competitors, Frankie decides that its time for Maggie to match up with a fighter by the name of Billy "The Blue Bear", played by real life kick-boxer Lucia Rijker (a four-time World Champion with a 36-0 record, which 25 of those victories were first-round knockouts). Known for her dirty tactics in the ring, Frankie continues to ponder his decision about pairing up Maggie with Billy for a fight match-up in Las Vegas.

That’s about as far as I can go without giving away too much of the story and leaving potential viewers, who have not seen or heard anything dealing with the outcome of this story, feeling robbed of the surprises and developments that this story presents, leading to one of the more controversial finales, in a Hollywood film, in quite sometime.

Winner of four Academy Awards (2004), "Million Dollar Baby" garnered Oscars for the categories of Best Picture, Best Director (Clint Eastwood), best female actor in a leading role (Hilary Swank) and best supporting actor (Morgan Freeman).

Having avoided all of the hype surrounding this film during its theatrical run, and feeling that Martin Scorsese was possibly robbed at this year’s Oscar ceremony, I’m truly delighted that I finally took opportunity to experience the film "Million Dollar Baby". This well presented and superbly crafted film that is beautifully written and masterfully directed will leave you with a truly satisfying experience as you witness the powerful and heart-wrenching performances from Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman. I genuinely feel comfortable in knowing that this film deserved all of the attention and accolades that it received.

Warner Home Video presents "Million Dollar Baby" in a gorgeous <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer exhibiting every ounce of brilliant detail possible, attributed to a good balance between pure deep blacks to vibrant whites. Colors are nicely saturated and flesh tones are natural in presentation. The print exhibits no signs of dust, dirt or grain and there are also no visible compression artifacts present.

The <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 soundtrack, available in either English or French, has a good balance and vocals sound quite natural, right down to the aging, raspy-tone of Eastwood’s trademark voice. The soundstage provides good use of all available channels, including nicely placed low frequency signals during fight scenes, with the surrounds becoming active from cheering crowds.

Extras, which are available on the second disc include a roundtable-type discussion featuring: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman and moderated by James Lipton. Behind the scenes footage and "Born to Fight", a featurette examining the parallels between the actual movie and real-life boxer Lucia Rijker. Available on disc one, with the feature presentation, is the theatrical trailer for the film.