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
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.
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
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