Thursday, March 17, 2005


By Reymundo Salao
The Guardian, Iloilo City

Weeks before the night of the Academy Awards, all the hype and anticipation went to Martin Scorsese & his film "The Aviator". But on Oscar Night, the film that did reap the awards that included Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture, was MILLION DOLLAR BABY. The film tells the sublime story of Maggie Fitzgerald, a 31-year old waitress who comes to a Boxing Gym, trying to convince Frankie Dunn, an aging boxing trainer/manager to train her under his tutelage. Although extremely unwilling and reluctant at first, the trainer does agree and have discovered that this girl was indeed worthy of being a champion. But aside from that, the trainer and the lady boxer have, in one way or another, found each other, the same way as a father and a daughter may have found each other. The waitress has found in him the father that a loner like her would need, and the trainer have found in her the daughter he lost.

The film has a such a big three cast, that of Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood (who is also the director of this film), and Hilary Swank, who has also received critical acclaim for her acting work in the film "Boys Don't Cry", receiving acting awards from the Golden Globe and the Academy Awards. Her acting on "Million Dollar Baby" is superb, playing the determined girl who has felt like she has been "trash" all her life, and has now found solace in her ambitions of becoming a boxing champion. Her boyish and femininely muscular built added much to make her physically perfect, and believable for the role. But with an acting talent like hers, one can care less of making much fuss of her physical fit. It is in the second half of the film, when the real drama begins, when she displays her moving performances making her indeed worthy of winning the Oscar's Best Actress award; when the real drama kicks in. Morgan Freeman is undoubtedly and seemingly-endlessly the best supporting actor that he is on this film. Ever since his performance in "Se7en", I've referred to his roles as the voice of wisdom, regardless if he's playing the role of God (in "Bruce Almighty") or the Old-timer boxer-turned-gym janitor/caretaker Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris. On this film, him also being the narrator, adds to the perfection of it all. His role is the voice of experience, and witness to the father-daughter relationship between the girl-boxer and his friend, the trainer-manager, to whom he oftentimes acts as an adviser. Like how he does it in his best films, Freeman's acting is subtle but unforgettable. Clint Eastwood, actor and director of this film is remarkable, especially for his age of 75(?) He brings such depth and intensity to the role of a trainer, who has been a failure in his management of a previous fighter, and has a daughter someplace else, in a presumably distant place, who never does reply to the mails that he sends. When he finally agrees to train this girl, and that we begin to realize how he treats her with much regard, like a daughter, we already see the foreshadowing of a tear-jerking drama that captures our interest more.

The film was much of an intimately-scaled three-character drama, that these three big performers conveniently fit in. It was very simplistic, without any grandiose, over-the-top performances of screaming and high-pitched screeching, neither were there big sets, big scenes, and big effects. Just the acting, the mood, the script, and the storyline. The color mood for the cinematography was also perfect for the film. The director of photography Tom Stern and production designer Harry Bumstead did a great job. It was as if you could feel the stink of the boxing world. Bluish, moody, no stark colors, setting the quiet mood of the film, along with the acoustic music (my friend noticed it to sound like the same acoustic music heard on his film "Unforgiven") that surprisingly, was composed by Eastwood as well.

The film was based on the book "Rope Burns" by F.X. Toole, the screenwriter is Paul Haggis. The script was excellent. Right from the narration, not only the voice of Morgan Freeman, but the words of what he says brings much weight and credibility of it being an outstanding boxing movie. The lines of the three main characters deserve our full attention for the film. Lines that are striking and direct-to-the-point, such as how Frankie says to Maggie whose just had her nose broken, before sending her off to the next round "You have 20 seconds before that (broken nose) turns into a geyser!" It was simply a line that I couldn't erase in my head about the film. The final moments of the film also had its best lines. When Freeman says how somebody must feel when they fought hard and finally got what they aspired for in life, stating how that is important to a person, is also one of the most memorable lines of the film. The film is intense and touching. Inexplicable, that you yourself should go see this beautiful movie of boxing, risks, relationships, failure, and life. Truly, MILLION DOLLAR BABY does deserve the numerous awards that it garnered, easily beating that DiCaprio-Scorsese film by a knockout.

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