Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Dir: Clint Eastwood
“Boxing is about respect” narrates Morgan Freeman in the first few minutes of this film, and there are very few directors currently working in Hollywood that are as respected as Clint Eastwood.
Somehow up to today I had only seen one of the films Eastwood has directed, 2003’s ‘Mystic River’, so I went into this not considering the director’s past work so much, but more the genre of boxing films, of which I have seen just a few, ‘The Fighter’, ‘Ali’, and ‘Girlfight’. From my experience with these, I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong.
Sports films often follow a very simple format, even those focused on the life of a very well-known personality, by watching them rise from obscurity, overcoming all opponents, battling some sort of personal issues, then winning the big match or title in the end. I pressed ‘play’ expecting something along those lines. Whereas usually (especially in stories not specifically based upon a real-life figure) the personal difficulties faced by the lead often feel merely add to pad out a sporting story and give it needed depth, in this film the right balance was struck, that Maggie’s upbringing, family, and current circumstances, were not just thrown in to put something worthwhile between fight sequences. Rather, they were all there as they should be, to make the character real.
The other strength of this film, was that when it took an unexpected turn, that’s exactly what it was, not a ‘twist’ or a ‘shock ending’ but a turn in the story, as with real life, that things didn’t go in quite the way that might have been expected.
I found this genuinely enjoyable, while still moving and affecting. If you watch it expecting a boxing film with lots of fighting, you will be surprised, as the real fights don’t always happen in a ring.