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Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Jay Baruchel, Mike Colter, Lucia Rijker, Brian F. O'Byrne, Anthony Mackie, Margo Martindale, Riki Lindhome
Writing Credits:
F.X. Toole (stories), Paul Haggis

"I don't train girls", trainer Frankie Dunn growls. But something's different about the spirited boxing hopeful who shows up daily at Dunn's gym. All she wants is a fighting chance. Clint Eastwood plays Dunn and directs, produces and composes music for this acclaimed, multi-award-winning tale of heart, hope and family. Hilary Swank plays resilient Maggie, determined not to abandon her one dream. And Morgan Freeman is Scrap, gym caretaker and counterpoint to Dunn's crustiness. Grab your dreams and come out swinging.

Box Office:
$30 million.
Opening Weekend
$179.953 thousand on 8 screens.
Domestic Gross
$100.422 million.

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 132 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 11/14/2006

• “Born to Fight” Featurette
• “The Producers’ Round 15” Featurette
• “James Lipton Takes on Three” Featurette


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Million Dollar Baby [Blu-Ray] (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 23, 2014)

Sometimes I really believe that there is such a thing as a “make good” Oscar. This theory postulates that sometimes an award recipient gets a prize as a concession to a prior work that failed to take home the gold. For instance, Renee Zellweger’s Oscar for her cartoony performance in Cold Mountain may have been a concession that she really deserved recognition for her superior turn in Chicago.

Perhaps this is why 2004’s Million Dollar Baby won the Best Picture Oscar over a list of stronger contenders. Clint Eastwood directed it, and he also made 2003’s Mystic River, the flick many thought should have beaten The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for Best Picture. Ironically, King itself was seen as a “make good” Oscar since many interpreted its prize as an attempt to reward the entire trilogy but not the specific film itself.

Whatever the case may be, I remain convinced that Baby was an undeserving Best Picture winner. The film introduces us to Frankie Dunn (Eastwood), the owner of a grimy old gym where he trains boxers. Elderly former fighter Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman) acts as caretaker for the joint as well. Frankie manages up-and-comer “Big Willie” (Mike Colter), a solid boxer who gets an offer for a title bout. However, the cautious Frankie turns down this opportunity because he thinks Willie still needs two or three more tune-up fights before he’s ready.

Frankie’s promised Willie the same thing for quite a while, however, which makes the boxer think his shot will never come – at least not as long as he stays with Frankie. Because of that, Willie eventually leaves Frankie in the lurch to take on a manager who gets him a big fight.

In the meantime, we see activities back at the gym. In addition to Scrap, its denizens include a scrawny mentally challenged boxer wannabe named “Danger” Barch (Jay Baruchel). He fantasizes about prize fights with Tommy Hearns even though that pugilist hasn’t been champion in years. Scrap takes care of Danger and humors him, but the boy’s presence in the gym irritates some of the regulars, especially mean-spirited and arrogant Shawrelle Berry (Anthony Mackie).

Into this world steps rising fighter Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank). She got into the boxing game late in life – at 31, she’s almost over the hill – but she shows promise and wants Frankie to train her. He refuses to work with her, though his attitude doesn’t dissuade her and she continues to work out at the gym. Won over by her persistence, Scrap lends her a hand when he can.

Eventually Maggie’s persistence wins out and Frankie agrees to train her. He maintains a desire to keep his distance, though, as he promises to teach her the ropes and send her on her way to someone else. Along the way, the pair grow closer, and this relationship becomes the main focus along with Maggie’s increasing success as a fighter.

When I saw Baby theatrically, I left the screening irritated. The film garnered reams of effusive praise that I didn’t think it merited. Simple and heavy-handed, the movie left me cold.

However, I realized that I went into the flick with certain expectations. Sometimes I get a better perspective when I watch a movie a second time and I can then better see its charms.

Too bad that didn’t happen with Baby. On second viewing, I thought it seemed just as flawed as the first time through it. While not without its positives, the movie demonstrates way too many significant problems to be so highly regarded.

Note that this area of the discussion may present some spoilers, so if you want to avoid those, skip ahead to the technical ratings!

My biggest concerns stem from the superficial qualities of most characters. Only Frankie comes across as an actual full-blooded human being. He displays real subtlety and depth, primarily via his haunted past. We know he did something major to hurt and alienate his daughter, and clearly this continues to affect him. It also seems to have made him excessively cautious, as though he avoids entanglements so he doesn’t hurt or get hurt again. The film occasionally telegraphs Frankie’s issues, but it leaves enough to the imagination to make him a three-dimensional personality.

Unfortunately, the other main characters don’t get the same consideration. For instance, Maggie displays two moods. Usually she’s golly-gee-whiz chipper and determined. Occasionally she reflects her own hurt, primarily due to the pain inflicted on her by her uncaring family. Maggie loved her dead dad, but her mom and siblings have done nothing but cause her heartache.

Oh, the Fitzgerald family - what a cartoony conglomeration they make! Trailer trash so nasty they’d look more at home in a John Waters movie, I get the feeling Eastwood gave the actors one piece of direction: “Think Jerry Springer!” These rednecks would look right at home on tabloid TV but they seem badly out of place in the real world Baby purports to portray.

But back to Maggie. Swank took home an Oscar for her role, and that just stuns me. Granted, the actress does her best to develop Maggie into a real personality, but she can’t overcome the shackles placed on her by the one-dimensional writing. Maggie’s a determined hick with little personality beyond that.

Similar constraints make Scrap a weak character. I love Morgan Freeman and I’m happy he finally took home an Oscar, but why couldn’t it have been for a good role like the one he played in Seven? Frankly, Scrap exists as a plot device. He brings together Maggie and Frankie, and he also acts as the latter’s conscience. Scrap is little more than Jiminy Cricket come to life, and that just isn’t much of a character.

The rest of the world comes chock full of even less defined roles. In addition to the idiotic Fitzgerald clan, we get Danger, who essentially is the Chicken Hawk from Looney Tunes. Danger’s even more of a plot device than Scrap, as he exists solely so Scrap gets an audience-pleasing moment when he clocks Shawrelle.

Then there’s Billie “The Blue Bear”. I’ve not seen a boxer so overtly villainous since Drago from Rocky IV! She displays no more humanity than that Soviet robot and her path is laid out even more obviously. With all her dirty tricks, does it surprise anyone when she seriously injures Maggie?

Which leads to the movie’s other major flaw: all its plot gaps, telegraphed concepts and leaps in logic. Billie gets away with an awful lot during her bout, and then we’re supposed to believe she wins anyway! Thousands of witnesses see her violate the rules, but apparently this fight occurs in pro wrestling world where combatants get away with everything as long as the ref doesn’t observe it.

Maggie’s fate comes as absolutely no surprise either. Much has been made about the film’s controversial ending, but we could see it coming from a mile away when Maggie talks about how her daddy had to put down an old dog. We get it: when she can’t live up to her peak anymore, she wants to die. Go ahead and kill her already to make this nonsense end.

I could go on about the inconsistencies and idiocies, but I’ll stop there before I work myself into a lather. One can argue that I’m a hypocrite because I’ll accept stupidity and much bigger flaws in a movie like Independence Day but then I pick on something like Baby. The difference comes from how high each flick sets the bar. ID4 is nothing more than a moronic popcorn flick, but Baby aspires to be something more. Too bad it falls far short of those goals.

Though not without some charms – primarily the warm interaction between Eastwood and Freeman - I thought Baby was too much like a damned TV movie. It had too many obvious plot points spelled out too far in advance and too clumsily. The film presents exceedingly little depth or nuance as it bashes us over the head with its themes. This doesn’t make for a satisfying movie.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B/ Bonus C

Million Dollar Baby appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. One of WB’s earliest Blu-rays, the image showed its age.

Sharpness was erratic. Close-ups and some wider elements looked reasonably concise, but other long shots tended to be a bit on the soft side. These examples weren’t overwhelming, but they could give the presentation a tentative feel. I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes remained modest. No print flaws appeared, but the movie came with some mild artifacts that gave it something of a messy look at times.

Baby featured a stylized palette to match the subdued subject matter. The tones tended toward light greens and blues, though a little more vivacity emerged in boxing sequences. The disc replicated the visual design nicely, as the colors always appeared the way they were intended to look. Black levels also came across as dense and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately thick but not excessively heavy. This was never a bad presentation, but the softness and artifacts dropped it to a “C+”.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Million Dollar Baby served the movie fairly well. As one might expect, the majority of the audio tended toward general environmental material. Music demonstrated excellent stereo imaging, and the effects spread out the information well.

Boxing scenes worked the best, as they added dimensionality from the crowd and other elements. Gym scenes were also solid since they broadened out to present a natural feel. The rear speakers contributed a fine sense of atmospherics throughout the flick, and they were active when appropriate.

Audio quality seemed good. At all times, dialogue came across as concise and crisp. I noticed no problems with edginess or intelligibility, as the lines always sounded smooth. Music was appropriately bright and dynamic, as the score and songs seemed nicely reproduced.

Effects were also clean and realistic, with no signs of distortion. Bass response pounded well when necessary, such as during the aforementioned panic attacks; the low-end really kicked in solidly. The mix was involving without being showy, and that made sense for this sort of film.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the DVD from 2005? Audio was identical, which may make one wonder why the track I gave a “B+” in 2005 became a “B” in 2013. I penalized the Blu-ray a little for the absence of a lossless mix; the Dolby Digital audio was fine but I would’ve liked the extra oomph lossless could provide.

Visuals were improved. The DVD looked great for its format and era, while the Blu-ray didn’t impress in relative terms, but the BD still seemed tighter and more involving than the DVD. While the Blu-ray comes with room for improvement, it’s still better than the DVD.

Except for a trailer, the disc replicates the extras from the DVD, and we start with a 19-minute and 13-second featurette called Born to Fight. It presents movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and comments from Eastwood and actors Hilary Swank, Lucia Rijker, Jay Baruchel, Anthony Mackie and Morgan Freeman. They discuss the characters and the story, personal reflections, training and the boxing scenes, and general remarks.

Don’t expect much meat from “Fight”. Do expect spoilers, so if you’ve not seen the movie yet, avoid this program. Mostly the show includes fairly bland notes about the main personalities and the plot. These usually lack insight. Really, Rijker’s comments are the only good ones. She tells us some interesting boxing tales and a personal story about her past. Otherwise, this is a dull piece.

Next we find The Producers’ Round 15. It goes for 13 minutes, five seconds and offers information from producers Albert S. Ruddy and Tom Rosenberg, and producer/screenwriter Paul Haggis. They go into the movie’s origins and development, casting and Eastwood’s involvement, the director’s style and shooting the film, and reactions to the film’s success.

“Producers” easily accomplishes more than its predecessor. It provides a reasonably informative look at the flick and presents actual substance. It’s still too short and never becomes special, but at least it doesn’t waste our time.

The disc finishes with James Lipton Takes on Three. This show fills 24 minutes and 45-second and features Lipton’s post-Oscars roundtable chat with Eastwood, Freeman and Swank. They chat about the movie’s reception, why they chose to work on the flick and its script. Improvisation, the start to Swank’s career and her approach to Maggie, her injuries during the shoot, acting together, Freeman’s dancing past and his take on Scrap, influences, Eastwood’s techniques on the set, and the movie’s voiceover.

In regard to its quality, “Three” falls between the other two programs. It certainly betters the superficiality of “Fight” but it lacks the concise coverage of “Producers”. Lipton is such a fawning, obsequious presence that he gets on my nerves, and he doesn’t ask questions that prompt great information. Nonetheless, enough decent data emerges to make the show watchable and sporadically informative.

Maybe I'll watch Million Dollar Baby again someday and decide I was totally wrong - it's happened. But based on my three screenings, I scratch my head about all the praise for this simplistic, obvious and heavy-handed flick. The Blu-ray delivers good audio along with mediocre visuals and bonus materials. Neither the Blu-ray nor the movie impress.

To rate this film visit the Deluxe Edition review of MILLION DOLLAR BABY

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main