Warner Bros. // 2004 // 132 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // May 15th, 2006
"If there's magic in boxing, it's the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys, and detached retinas. It's the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you."
Let's take a look at the cover of the case of this DVD, simply done, with silhouette pictures of the stars Clint Eastwood (Mystic River), Morgan Freeman (Se7en), and Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry). The actors' names are in the upper right corner, along with the film's title. Go down to the bottom of the cover, and you see that it won four Oscars, and all in big categories, with Best Picture, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Director. So what's the big deal?
In Million Dollar Baby, based on a story and adapted for film by Paul Haggis (Crash), Eastwood, who also directed, appears as Frankie Dunn, a grizzled boxing gym owner and trainer who has been occasionally accused of overprotecting his fighters. He has a friend named Eddie (Freeman) helps run the gym. One day, a woman named Maggie (Swank) comes into the gym after watching one of Eastwood's fighters get a hard earned win, and she wants to be trained by Frankie. Frankie refuses, telling Maggie "I don't train girls." However, he doesn't know Maggie's story, and underestimates her desire to fight. He decides to take her under his wing and trains her. It is his tutelage that helps propel her to success that neither expected. Frankie and Maggie manage to get to the title shot, but something happens that permanently changes both their lives.
It's kind of surprising that there are still quite a few people that have not seen Million Dollar Baby and still think that it's a "boxing movie." To quote Roger Ebert, "it's not a boxing movie. It's a movie about a boxer." Those who have seen the movie know of which I speak, those that don't will not see the end of the film coming, and will totally be amazed by its thoughtfulness and the amount of introspection that comes from it.
As for the performances, Freeman finally gets the Oscar that was so richly deserved after three decades of quality work, and Swank has quietly become the best young actress today. Her win for her work as the country/white trash girl whose easygoing persona and quiet determination make her a formidable fighter was her second win in recent years. As for Eastwood, he has long had a sense of letting the actors act, and with Haggis' screenplay, which was shot without any rewrites, and a top-notch starring cast, he does what he does best, which is to let them do their job.
Not having the standard definition version of the movie for comparison, the technical qualities of Million Dollar Baby aren't too shabby. The thing that makes this whole high definition DVD platform so neat is that the close shots of flesh tones really possess a lot of detail. Granted, looking at a pair of septuagenarians close up may not be as appealing as you'd expect, but in this new high def omelet, sometimes you've got to break some eggs.
As is the case with almost all the other HD discs to date, the features are in standard definition. The first feature is a roundtable discussion with Eastwood, Swank, and Freeman as they discuss the film, their preparations for (and in Swank's case, battle scars incurred from) their respective characters and how Eastwood runs a set. Moderator James Lipton couldn't get through a 25-minute interview with them without mentioning the Actors' Studio show once, so prepare for that. Next is a more insightful look at the sport of boxing by Lucia Rijker, who plays Billie in the film. A surprisingly articulate woman, she recalls her start in boxing, and the events in the film are ones she can easily relate to (when she bought her mom a house, the interaction was eerily similar), and the cast members discuss their thoughts on the sport. The producers (Albert Ruddy and Tom Rosenberg) and Haggis recall how the film started, from script to finished product, and everyone was amazed at how quickly and efficiently Eastwood rolled through it all.
Rumor has it that Eastwood is actively participating in a re-release of the Dirty Harry films. While I don't know if this is true or, if so, what kind of role he has in this, I would hope that he revisits this one, as well as his other films, because they deserve a better treatment than what's seen here.
Whether the film is on high definition or standard DVD, it is an exceptional character study that reflects on very large and identifiable themes. It is another impeccable work by one of cinema's amazing talents.
Take a look at the defendants; do you think I'd even consider finding them guilty? Case dismissed, court adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2006 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 132 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* James Lipton Takes on Three: Roundtable with Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman and Moderator James Lipton
* Born to Fight: Examines the Parallels of the Movie to Real-Life Boxer Lucia Rijker
* Producers Round 15: Behind the Scenes
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* Official Site