Back in January of 2005 I sat in the theater watching Million Dollar Baby. For the first two thirds of the movie I was filled with excitement. They had finally made a great boxing movie again. As someone who is a huge fan of the sport, loves the Rocky movies and has even made a boxing movie, I was beyond proud at the work Clint Eastwood had done. This movie knew the sport. It felt real and alive and didn’t just pay lip service to the sport called the Sweet Science. With legit boxing scribe F.X. Toole (aka Jerry Boyd) providing the foundation, Eastwood and Co. seemed to have been given a forum with which they shined.
Then Maggie (Hilary Swank) gets hurt in the ring and the movie took a digger. It became a political tale of special interests. It went from being about a women’s right to fight to a women’s right to die. Recently losing a cat of 20 years has sort of made me question all my views on this subject, but I can unquestionably say that I feel to raise that argument at that point in the movie was undoubtedly the biggest bait and switch since JLo’s Angel Eyes. What was Eastwood thinking? Okay, I know he won all these awards but that’s a no brainer. The Academy loves stories like this. I don’t mind them either but not in a boxing movie and not at that juncture in the film. What would I have liked to see happen? Maggie recovers and maybe resumes fighting. Okay, I know that is going to elicit many snickers, so maybe she doesn’t continue fighting, but my gosh, if you want to send a message call Western Union.
Born to Fight
The extras for this 3 disk set are done in a very nice way in that all the related extras are put together on one disk (while the audio CD is on a separate one). This particular feature looks at the movie Million Dollar Baby as it sort of runs a similar course with Lucia Rijker’s (who plays Billie “The Blue Bear”) career. It looks at the movie in general and basically picks apart what makes a fighter. For those interested in a more detailed account of boxing and Lucia Rijker in they should pick up Katya Bankowsky’s Shadow Boxers. This particular feature is interesting and my favorite parts of it are when we get to hear Clint Eastwood dissect his film.
James Lipton Takes on Three
This is a series of interviews conducted by the reverential James Lipton (of The Actor’s Studio) after Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman all won their Oscars. It is an interesting interview although it feels a bit uncomfortable. Lipton usually has a forum like this with his subjects in front of a live audience. There is an energy there that makes Lipton’s gushing praise seem normal. In the confined setting with which this interview happens everything just seems stilted. It’s too quiet. However, despite all of this it still works and Lipton as always asks thought provoking questions.
I put this CD into my DVD player and was treated to 20 tracks from the movie. I may not be that big a fan of the film, but I have to admit that the DVD is worth owning simply because of the supplemental materials. When you realize that Clint Eastwood also did the music for this movie, his achievement with this film is really extraordinary. This CD is very good although playing in my crappy setup, I had to adjust the volume a lot just because of the disparity between CD audio and DVD audio.
Widescreen Version presented in a “letterbox” widescreen format preserving the “scope” aspect ratio of it’s original theatrical exhibition. Enhanced for widescreen TVs. No matter how I feel about this movie, no matter what I think it ultimately is or isn’t, I will say that it looks awesome. They have elevated the boxing film with Director of Photography Tom Stern’s work. It is dark but not too dark. It is moody but not too moody. It captures the feeling and the moments of boxing. Whether it is at a fight, in the gym or even with the characters in their personal lives it is all right on. This is a movie that could have easily won an award for how it was lensed. I may not be happy that it beat out The Aviator, but I am honest enough to admit that very few films ever look as good as Million Dollar Baby.
Dolby Digital. English: Dolby Surround 5.1. French: Dolby Surround 5.1. The music is all very good. It is obvious that Eastwood has a reverence for jazz and for “weighty” music to bolster the themes of his films. This all works to great effect here. Everything is leveled very nicely not just on the disks of the movie but on all of the disks for these DVDs. There is a quietness to this film and it seems like Paul Haggis’s screenplay is written in such a way that no words were wasted. Everything about what this movie is comes across it’s just a shame that when it eventually becomes a right to life/right to die tale, I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. Boxing tales are especially ripe for cinematic treatment simply because there is so much drama, action and intrigue inherent in the sport. Everything about it is one on one. It is said to be 70% mental and 30% physically. What other medium could better show this disparity?
This DVD is given the treatment. It’s got the same poster for the movie on the cover with Swank, her chiseled back to us and Eastwood and Freeman lurking in the shadows. The back cover has a solitary shot of Swank at a heavy bag. There is a small description of the film, a very detailed extras listing (also telling us where everything is on each disk), a cast list and the disks technical specifications. Inside the 3 disk set unfolds revealing different pictures from the movie, and really nice shot of the “Hit Pit” ring fills the background behind the disks. The disks all have a picture of the one of the 3 main characters on them.
Okay, I am still not a huge fan of this film but I will say that this DVD set has won me over a bit. It is well done, reverentially put together and overall it works. At the very least, the packaging and the care put into it say, that if nothing else, Million Dollar Baby is an important film. While I think the reasons for this can be debated, ultimately I think this does nothing but underscore what a strong film it is. I may disagree with it, I may not like where it went in the last third of the film, I may even feel a but cheated but I think this says more about the power of film then it does about me. I feel bad because this movie made me care about the characters, the story and the ideas it was putting across and then I wasn’t able to follow it all the way home. If nothing else, Million Dollar Baby has succeeded in eliciting all kinds of reactions.
Now, if only we can get EVERYONE to see Cinderella Man.
Million Dollar Baby was released December 15, 2004.