Published Dec 01, 2004Clint Eastwood would like you to believe that Million Dollar Baby is about his character, a boxing coach named Frank Dunn. That is to say, how cutely curmudgeonly he is, how adorably tough and yet how shiny his heart of gold is as he reluctantly agrees to train a desperate 31-year-old woman named Maggie Fitzgerald. Unfortunately for him, Maggie is played by Hilary Swank, and her spiky movie star charm makes you wish he'd step out of the way and let her shine on her own.
The film is a series of bet-hedging and sainted virtues, as it tries to cast a good light on the "deserving" underprivileged while hogging the spotlight that's casting it, managing also to rope poor Morgan Freeman into the "helpy helperton" role he last played in Eastwood's Unforgiven. But even within this scenario, it's still got Swank, a bittersweet, melancholy tone and the high Hollywood melodrama about the heroine's meteoric rise from nothing to something to disaster.
Written way over the top (by Paul Haggis, from stories by F.X. Toole) but shot in the understated Eastwood fashion, it strikes the right emotional balance between Rocky myth and Fat City reality: full of flaws but with parts that kill like no pop movie this year. I just wish Eastwood stayed behind the camera more. (Warner)