Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by:Paul Haggis
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
Released: February 3, 2005
Grade: A+

Put simply, Million Dollar Baby is a “knockout” story.

It centres on an aging boxing coach Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) looking for redemption.  He has seen many great fighters come through his rundown boxing centre but has never taken any to a world-title fight.  Then, Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank), a “rough as guts” 31-year-old, walks in the door.  A struggling waitress living alone, Maggie has only one love – boxing.  All she needs is a coach…

The hardened Frankie has no intention of coaching a girl.  She may be tough but as he tells her “tough ain’t enough”.  What Frankie hasn’t counted on is coming up again someone as stubborn as himself.  Maggie won’t take no for an answer and is prepared to prove herself.  She is always the last to leave the gym of a night and is being helped along by Frankie’s best friend and co-worker Eddie (Freeman).  Persistence pays off.  Frankie takes Maggie under his wing and it’s the marks the start of a life changing journey… for both of them.

If you think you’ve seen this story before, think again.  It may sound like any other rags-to-riches sporting film but there’s a lot which neither I, nor the film’s trailer, is telling you.  Further, these characters are truly believable.  Writer Paul Haggis follows a golden rule in screenwriting and keeps the audience hanging.  There’s a lot we don’t know about Frankie, Maggie and Eddie and instead of a revealing all in the introduction, Haggis increases the intrigue by making us watch and wait.

Only 11 actresses in history have won two best actress Oscars.  The list includes Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor and Jodie Foster.  Hilary Swank is on the verge of joining this list having won an Academy Award back in 1999 for Boys Don’t Cry.  Swank is sensational in her role as Maggie Fitzgerald.  A very demanding job both physically and emotionally.  Considering I’ve wagered $300 on her to win the Oscar, I’ll be one of many cheering her home in a few weeks.

Speaking of talent, how good is Clint Eastwood?  As I indicated in my review of Mystic River, he has a knack for using light and shadow to wonderful effect.  It’s noticeable again in Million Dollar Baby and the darker tones and a perfect metaphor for what is being hidden by these characters.  Praise also goes to Eastwood’s direction of the many boxing scenes.  I’m usually an emotional void in movie theatres but I literally found myself cringing during the punches and smiling during the triumphs.  His ability behind the camera is matched in front of it.  Eastwood’s heartfelt performance is the best I have seen from him.  To top it off, he also composed the film’s music score!

Million Dollar Baby is the complete package – great direction, great acting and most importantly, great story.  What more do you want???