This post comes from Andrew of The Stop Button blog. Thank you so much Andrew for getting involved!
Million Dollar Baby
Million Dollar Baby has a somewhat significant plot twist.
Well, it actually has a couple of them. And neither comes with much
foreshadowing. A little in Paul Haggis’s script, which director
Eastwood visualizes appropriately, but they’re in the
background. The film has its larger than life story to worry
about–Clint Eastwood as a stogy old boxing trainer taking on a
female boxer, played by Hilary Swank. Except she’s not a kid.
She’s a grown woman.
The film opens without cast title cards. Immediately, it’s
very smooth. Eastwood has a gym, Morgan Freeman runs it for him. There
are assorted goings-on at the gym involving the guys training there.
It’s a great supporting cast at the gym–Jay Baruchel, Mike
Colter, Anthony Mackie–but the gym is initially just where
Eastwood hangs out, not where he interacts. So instead Freeman is
telling him the goings-on, which does fantastic setup for their
relationship throughout the film. Only when Swank arrives does
Eastwood get forced to participate and only after prodding from
It’s great character development, funny, sweet, sincere.
Eastwood’s very careful not to push too hard on any emotional
buttons. He makes sure the actors’ emotions are authentic and
doesn’t lay it on with the filmmaking. Tom Stern shoots
Million Dollar Baby with crispness for the daytime scenes and
sharpness with the nighttime. It works as to how the performances come
across, how Joel Cox edits them. If it weren’t for how well
Haggis’s script works, especially how it integrates
Freeman’s narration, Million Dollar Baby might just be
one of film’s finest melodramas. Well, if Eastwood–who
does a lot in Million Dollar Baby as an actor and a
director–wanted to make a melodrama.
He doesn’t though. Instead, he makes this strangely small,
while still big, character study of three people and a location and
shared experiences. Most of the film takes place in the gym.
It’s the touchstone for the characters and the audience.
Eastwood and Haggis never wax on about the hopes and dreams of the
boxers at the gym–or even Swank’s. It’s not a
meditation on the sport of boxing. It’s this devastating human
condition piece, with characters revealing depths the entire length of
the film, both through scripted dialogue and the actors’
performances. All of the acting is great; Swank is the best, but
Eastwood’s the most surprising. You never once get the feeling
Eastwood ever has an idea of what he’s going to say to
Freeman is great too, in the film’s most “of
course” sort of way. He gets to be a bit of a mystery and has
some fun with it. He narrates and he’s never untrustworthy or
anything, he just isn’t telling his own story and it turns
out–thanks to Freeman and Haggis–it adds to the film.
Eastwood also did the music, which is sort of unsurprising and also
fantastic. The music is perfect. It’s such a strange film, this
gentle American Dream rumination, celebration, and condemnation.
It’s always sincere, never cynical, never defeatist, but never
hopeful either. Eastwood’s filmmaking is focused character
study. The music is restrained and minimal.
So many different things are going on in the film at any
moment–whether it’s Swank’s Rocky story,
Eastwood’s aging one, Freeman’s supporting mostly wry one,
Eastwood and Haggis rely heavily on that Freeman narration. He never
disappoints. Million Dollar Baby is kind of a love letter;
all of a sudden I’m wondering how the script was written with
the narration or if it was cut together later.
Eastwood, Swank, and Freeman don’t reinvent the melodrama;
they just perfect the melodramatic character study. Ably assisted by
Haggis, Stern, and Cox. Million Dollar Baby is