Plot: What’s it about?
I can’t help but feel some remorse for Martin Scorsese as he once again lost out on the coveted Best Director Academy Award to yet another actor-turned-director. His “Raging Bull” lost to “Ordinary People” (Directed by Robert Redford) and “GoodFellas” lost out to “Dances with Wolves” (Directed by Kevin Costner). The rematch pitted Scorcese’s “The Aviator” against Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” and we all know who won that battle…I feel, had Eastwood’s movie not been released, that “The Aviator” would have won Best Picture but seeing the two movies – it really wasn’t a question as to which was the better movie – you could say it was a knockout. And what is it about boxing movies that makes most of them great and memorable? “Raging Bull”, “Rocky”, “Million Dollar Baby” and even the recent “Cinderella Man”? The images of two people beating the hell out of each other is certainly a way to evoke emotion and a boxing movie, although not too common, is usually a good candidate for a great movie. This movie won 4 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor (giving Morgan Freeman his long overdue statue). I feel Eastwood’s performance was certainly worthy of a nomination and had it not been for Jamie Foxx’s magnificent turn as Ray Charles – I think Eastwood would have nabbed the trophy. All of this, naturally, takes a backseat to how simply wonderful this film is and the controversy it sparked.
Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) comes from a blue collar, redneck family. She’s moved away from them to pursue her dream of becoming a professional female boxer. The only problem, though, is that she’s got no training and as Eastwood’s character says “Tough ain’t enough, kid”. She lives in poverty, works a job as a waitress and uses all of her spare money on gym fees and equipment. Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman) starts to notice her and takes her under his wing to teach her the basics. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with Frankie (Clint Eastwood) who “doesn’t train girls”. After enough begging and pleading, Frankie reluctantly agrees to train Maggie, teaching her discipline and the correct techniques. The two form an unlikely bond as she rises in the ranks of the female boxers. Everything seems to be going well, Maggie is earning money and her family is doing everything they can to extort it from her…and then something happens. I won’t say what it is as it will ruin the movie. I didn’t know about it going in and I wouldn’t want to ruin the central focus of the film for anyone who is unfamiliar with what happens.
Suffice it to say that “Million Dollar Baby” was certainly worthy of winning Best Picture, no matter how many people thought Scorcese was “due” – I’m glad it came down to what the better movie was as opposed to whose turn it was to win. Hilary Swank, at the age of 31, now has two Best Actress Oscars under her belt (she won in 1999 for “Boys Don’t Cry”) and Eastwood has a couple for his Directing in “Unforgiven” and this. While on Eastwood, how many good things can be said about him? He’s had one of the most stories careers in Hollywood, directing nearly as many films he’s acted in, even though he’s most closely associated with his role as “Dirty Harry”. With “Mystic River” last year and “Million Dollar Baby” this year, I’m eager to see what the 75 year old will do next.
Video: How does it look?
The movie is spread across a dual-layer disc and with only a trailer, there is an abundance of space on the disc. why mention this? The bit rate is very high and thus produces a very good-looking image, just short of perfection. I noticed no artifacting, no edge enhancement and only a few instances in which I saw any kind of defect. The 2.35:1 anamorphic image positively leaps off the screen in many instances and though a majority of the film is dingy and dull-looking, it’s by no fault of the transfer. This is a very real representation of how good a movie can look on DVD.
Audio: How does it sound?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has time to shine (during the boxing scenes) and a time to be a “normal” soundtrack. The surrounds are used very effectively during the fights and though they’re rather subdued during the majority of the movie, the presence is always there. Let’s face it – this isn’t the kind of movie that will be remembered for sound but it’s a good, solid track that does a more than adequate job. This is a very good-sounding track.
Supplements: What are the extras?
“Million Dollar Baby” comes in a deluxe three disc version (another version, minus the soundtrack is also available) that includes the original soundtrack as the third disc. The first disc contains the movie along with the theatrical trailer. The second disc is devoted to the extras, though they do leave a bit to the imagination. We start off with “Born to Fight” in which Swank and Lucia Rijker (“The Blue Bear” from the movie) talk about the movie and the controversey it sparked. We get some input from Eastwood and Freeman who share their thoughts on the film as well. Next up is “Producers Round 15” in which Albert Ruddy, Paul Haggis and Tom Rosenberg tell the roots of the movie and how it was adapted for the screen (with author F.X. Toole). Lastly, there is a 25 minute conversation with James Lipton, cleverly titled “James Lipton Takes on Three”. They talk about the movie, its impact and the acclaim it received. All seem very relaxed and it’s a nice feature to have. That’s about it as far as supplements go. There’s enough to whet the appetite, but for a Best Picture winner – I was expecting a bit more. Still, “Million Dollar Baby” was easily the best film of last year and it deserves to be seen.