Clint Eastwood has no desire to retire from Hollywood. In his advancing years, the veteran actor and director has decided to spend more time behind the camera than in front of it. Eastwood will make an exception and return to acting if one of his films contains a role he feels perfectly suited for. 2004's "Million Dollar Baby" is one such film and the last time that Eastwood has stepped in front of the camera. "Million Dollar Baby" took home Best Picture and captured yet another Best Director Academy Award nomination, following "Mystic River," "Unforgiven," and precluding "Letters from Iwo Jima." As was the case with "Unforgiven," Eastwood brought home the Oscar for Best Director for "Million Dollar Baby" and helped further his legacy as one of Hollywood's truly great talents.
In addition to its Best Picture and Best Director statues, the film also won awards for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Hilary Swank and for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for Morgan Freeman. Bringing home four of the major categories in an Academy Awards show is an accomplishment. The film had garnered nominations for Best Achievement in Editing (Joel Cox), Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Clint Eastwood) and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay (Paul Haggis). With so much talent and so many accolades for Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby," the film has received a ton of critical praise and is one of the rare Best Picture victors that is appreciated by audiences and critics alike.
Hilary Swank is a thirty one year old waitress, Maggie Fitzgerald. She has one goal and one desire in life and that is to become a boxer. She barely survives on her salary, but saves what money she can to pay for lessons and buy the equipment needed to train to be a boxer. One thing she lacks is a mentor and trainer. She finally decides on approaching Frankie Dunne (Clint Eastwood) to bring her desires to fruition and train her to be a boxer. Frankie declines her offer, as he has no desire to take on a girl as a student and a boxer. However, his janitor and friend Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman) helps fuel Maggie's desires by giving her a few lessons after hours and talking Frankie into letting her train at the gym. Eddie goes as far as giving Maggie a speed bag of Frankie's to train with. This is much to the chagrin of Frankie, but he finally decides to let her train at his gym and find's her both a manager and a trainer.
After seeing Maggie nearly fail at the hands of a less talented trainer, Frankie angrily agrees to managing and training Maggie as one of his own boxers. She is older than most boxers, lacks many of the technical skills, but possesses brutal power. Very quickly, Maggie rises among the ranks and is forced to move up in weight classes when her opponents refuse to fight her. Frankie is reluctant to give Maggie a title shot, but finally agrees. Sadly, Maggie's title shot ends in tragedy when her opponent shoves her to the mat and she is critically injured and crippled by her fall. Maggie's fight in the ring is lost, but she begins a fight for survival and Frankie's original reluctance to train her finds the rugged old man looking at the young girl through the eyes of a fatherly figure and having to deal with the morality, guilt and pain associated with Maggie's paralysis and sadness.
Eastwood knows how to pick a winner and he does so in character and as the architect of this Best Picture winner. "Million Dollar Baby" is a wonderfully engaging film that is an emotional rise and fall for both Hilary Swank's character and the audience. As Maggie rises to the top, it is easy to cheer her and Frankie on. When she is hurt and paralyzed, the disappointment is for both the characters and the audience. Eastwood knows how to pick a story that entertains and analyses the human condition. "Million Dollar Baby" finds a diamond in the rough with Maggie and shows how a sad and lonely old man can find himself and salvation with giving up his demons and training Maggie. He is then brought down and must evaluate his own existence when Maggie is paralyzed after his involvement with her. This is a great film that deserved all of the awards it brought home. It this is the last time we seen Clint Eastwood in front of the camera, then he went out on top. It is a shame he did not bring home the Best Actor, but he did earn the Best Director award. He is a living legend that continues to churn out memorable experiences and this is one of his best.
"Million Dollar Baby" is a solid entry for Warner Bros. on Blu-ray that shows Eastwood's careful eye for detail with a visually impressive 2.35:1 film. Mastered using the VC-1 code and at 1080p resolution, "Million Dollar Baby's" visuals are detailed and colorful, although stylistic choices made by Eastwood and Director of Photography Tom Stern bring the story to life with sets that look as old and rough as the film's star. Colors are slightly muted, but look natural and realistic. Nothing in this film is notably bright or pretty. This is a gritty looking film that features more than its share of dark and poorly lit sets and keeps a depressing tone from the moment the film beings. Fortunately, the transfer keeps up with Eastwood's vision and with impressive blacks and well defined detail through the darkest moments; "Million Dollar Baby" looks quite good. The source materials are quite clean, with no film grain or other noticeable flaws. It isn't the most colorful and it sure isn't the prettiest film, but this rough and tumble picture is detailed and clear.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn't given a lot of material to work with. Aside from the film's boxing sequences, there just isn't a lot of life to the soundtrack. The rhythmic sounds of a boxer hitting a punching bag or speed bag break up some monotonous sounds that are typically populated with dialogue. Clint Eastwood's musical score helps build emotion to the scenes, but is absent for long stretches of times and subdued through many others. The boxing scenes are the film's liveliest moments. Each punch hits hard and is echoed by low level bass. The sounds of the bell and the crowd fill all six channels and are a noticeable step up in sound quality from the non-boxing moments of the film. Heavily driven by dialogue, Eastwood's gravelly and aged voice comes through clearly. The soundtrack is efficient and effective, but isn't ever given an opportunity to impress due to its minimalist elements.
The Blu-ray release of "Million Dollar Baby" features all of the bonus materials from the second DVD of the three disc standard definition release. The third disc was the film's isolated soundtrack on compact disc and is the only emission from the Blu-ray release. While numbering at only three, the items are lengthy and entertaining. James Lipton Takes on Three (24:45) is a nice featurettes where James Lipton sits down at a table with Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank. Their respective Oscars made the interview as well and Eastwood is more than ecstatic about the success of his film. Although Lipton comes off as dull and slightly pretentious, this is a nice interview. Born to Fight (19:13) is a segment involving Hilary Swank and her boxing trainer Lucia Rijker (who portrayed Billie the Blue Bear in the film). They discuss the arduous training undertaken by Swank and the appeal of the sport of boxing. This was another nice moment with Swank and insightful into the character and the sport. The third and final segment, Producers Round 15 (13:05) finds Albert S. Ruddy, Tom Rosenberg and Paul Haggis of "Crash" fame sitting down and discussing the genesis of "Million Dollar Baby." This very detailed featurettes was informative, but overly serious in tone.
I have not been the happiest with Best Picture winners over the past number of years before "The Departed" deservedly won. "Crash," "Chicago," "A Beautiful Mind," "Gladiator," "American Beauty" and "Shakespeare in Love" were not the most entertaining and deserving films. Clint Eastwood is Hollywood's Golden Years Boy and this film possibly marks his last time in front of the camera. He'll continue directing, but no longer has the desire to act. With Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman contributing to the film and Paul Haggis helping out with writing, Eastwood is surrounded by a great team of actors and filmmakers and produced a touching, insightful and entertaining film with "Million Dollar Baby." The Blu-ray release features an upgrade to both picture and sound over the standard definition release, although the sound is not that overly impressive. The supplements have been carried over from the 3-disc release. The picture alone is worthy of purchase, but an attractive release never hurts.