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Million Dollar Baby

Genre: Drama
Rated: PG-13
Directed by
Written by: PAUL HAGGIS, based on stories by F.X. TOOLD
Released by: Warner Bros. Pictures

In Short: Eastwood, Swank, Freeman and an excellent screenplay make this a contender for the year's best film.

Million Dollar Baby:
A Real Winner
By Andrew Bender

"Winners are simply willing to do what losers won’t,” reads a poster in the desolate, Downtown L.A. boxing gym operated by Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) and managed by a gentleman named Scrap (Morgan Freeman). Frankie is a salty old manager with a checkered past, and you wonder where the winner in him has gone. But in walks Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) as a wannabe boxer and she proves this poster right.

She asks Frankie to be her coach and won’t take no for an answer, scraping together every last cent to pay for training and equipment. She commutes from the beach – from the beach! – arrives early and stays late, and when she finally hits the ring, watch out.

The leads had aren’t resting on their laurels of already having given performances of a lifetime: Swank is taut, focused, empathetic and note-perfect; Eastwood has the appropriate pathos and just the right twinkle in his eye; and Freeman does yeoman’s work as the film’s moral center and narrator. Standout performers you may not have heard of include Jay Baruchel as Danger (one of Maggie’s gym-mates) and Margo Martindale as Maggie’s mom.

The script by Paul Haggis, based on stories by F.X. Toole, is seriously moving, seriously funny and seriously true-to-life, and if it isn’t nominated for Best Screenplay, there is seriously no justice in this world. Eastwood also directed, which can mean deadly-dull pacing (ever seen “Bird?”), but “Million Dollar Baby” is exhilarating, smart and always beautiful to look at.

It's an inspiring story, but if you’re going in expecting a feel-good film like “Rocky,” or even “Girlfight,” be forewarned that there’s a tragic twist. The genius of “Million Dollar Baby” is that Eastwood isn’t afraid to show us that sometimes it takes a tragedy to make us whole.

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