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Index of 2006

An Inconvenient Truth
Big Bad Swim
Brokeback Mountain
Cinderella Man
The Departed
The DaVinci Code
Eron: The Smartest
Guys in the Room

Good Night and
Good Luck

Half Nelson
History of Violence
Hotel Rwanda
Little Miss Sunshine
Journey from the Fall
March of the Penguins
Million Dollar Baby
Prairie Home Companion
Star Wars III:
Revenge of the Sith

Thank You for Smoking
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Sea Inside
United 93
War of the Worlds
Walk the Line
World Trade Center

Million Dollar Baby
A Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)

When Frankie Dunn, a fight trainer who runs a Los Angeles gym, is approached by Maggie Fitzgerald, a young waitress who is determined to become a boxer, he at first refuses her request to become her manager. Frankie's friend, Scrap, however, recognizes the determination behind Maggie's dream and convinces Frankie to reconsider

Clint Eastwood, now in his 70's, is better than ever. For decades, he’s been dealing with issues of sin, violence, and redemption. But in the last few years, he’s developed a strong personal style and a way with actors and a story that I would never have imagined from his earlier films. In his powerful, brooding 2003 film, Mystic River, Clint dealt with the aftermath of sin and violence in the lives of three boys who become flawed, haunted men.

As good as Mystic River was, Million Dollar Baby is better. It’s structure is tighter, with a focus on three characters: Clint himself is Frankie, a gym owner and boxing manager, Morgan Freeman as Scrap, a former boxer who now manages the gym, and Hilary Swank, as Maggie, a fighter who wants Frankie to train her. It would be easy for Million Dollar Baby to follow the standard fight movie formula we’ve seen a hundred times. But Clint does the unexpected: he focuses on character, relationship, and, as in a good novel, lets the story take us to unexpected places. Even though Frankie ignores Maggie at first, eventually he agrees to train her. He has lost a daughter; she mourns the loss of her father. Life has not been kind to these tragically flawed characters. They recall Marlon Brando’s washed-up fighter in On the Waterfront. The inner wounds they carry are much more painful than the punches they take in the ring.

Eastwood immerses the viewer into the world of sweaty, dark world of gyms and the tough men (and women) who patronize them. The raspy voices of Clint and Morgan Freeman whisper the sparse, beautiful dialogue. There is nothing fancy here, every word is authentic. Nothing is wasted. (Preachers take note!) Even the haunting score is courtesy of Clint.

Million Dollar Baby, like Mystic River, is a very Catholic movie. The church is very visible. Frankie, battling his own demons, attends daily Mass, prays, and talks regularly to his parish priest, Father Horvak. I’m happy to say that the priest is very realistic. In most popular entertainment today, priests are either irrelevant non-persons, sentimental fools, or sexual predators. Father Horvak is none of these. He’s a no-nonsense type who doesn’t put up with foolishness, but is there for Frankie when he is needed.

You may know by now that Million Dollar Baby has generated a storm of controversy. (Caution: I’m about to reveal a major plot twist.) The issue is assisted suicide. Some have criticized the movie severely for its handling of the issue. Clint has said that he didn’t intend to make a “political” film, advocating a particular point of view on the subject. After seeing the movie, I agree. The film makes sense in its particular context: the world of Maggie and Frankie, with their own dreams and fears. Frankie consults Father Horvak, who correctly presents the Catholic viewpoint.

Million Dollar Baby is exactly the kind of movie I’d want to discuss in an ethics class. The critical issues are enfleshed in the lives of wounded characters who live in a violent world. In an entertainment industry in which ultra-violent movies, television shows, and video games come and go with scarcely any notice, Clint Eastwood has the courage to make a movie that actually touches people and encourages us to consider and debate the effects of the violence we so often take for granted. For that, I’m grateful.

Tom Condon, OP

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