Brilliant acting, directing make boxing movie a real knock-out

When discussing “Million Dollar Baby,” there is one term that seems to be coming up again and again – knock-out. While this boxing pun may be slightly overused, it is nonetheless difficult to argue. “Million Dollar Baby” is, simply put, a knock-out.

Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is a former boxing manager who owns a rundown gym. His buddy Scrap (Morgan Freeman), a retired fighter who lost sight in his one eye during a match, works as a cleaning man in Frankie’s gym. Life seems to be draining out of the place, especially after the one fighter Frankie still manages leaves to go to a manager that can get him a shot at the title.

When Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), a waitress determined to become a boxer, joins the gym, Frankie immediately states that he does not train girls. Even if he did, he tells Maggie, she would be too old to fight. Yet despite his best efforts to prevent it, Frankie becomes Maggie’s trainer, and the two form a relationship that extends far outside the boxing ring. Before long, they are able to compliment the missing pieces in each other’s lives.

The film, which was adapted from a combination of two short stories in the collection “Rope Burns” by F. X. Toole, is deeply moving. While I will not give away the ending of the film for those who have yet to see it, I will say this: there is an ending worth discussing. It raises questions that I am not ready to answer, and I praise it for doing so.

Released just under the wire, “Million Dollar Baby” is nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay (Adapted) and Best Editing. Eastwood, who also directed the film, delivers a stellar performance. He is gritty and real and gives an honorable depth to the character of Frankie. Swank is deserving of all the praise she has received for her role as the charmingly dedicated female fighter, a unique character to grace the screen. Freeman seems to really understand the character of Scrap and, with a voice that could make reading from a phonebook sound good, gives soul to the film through his narration. Although Scrap can only see out of one eye, his insight is far greater.

“Million Dollar Baby” is not able to avoid many of the recognizable film clich?s, yet there is something moving about the way in which they are executed. We have seen certain scenes before, but we are willing to forgive that because they are a part of our lives. In a film that takes an unexpected turn, the clich?s work as a comfortable reference to things we understand. Eastwood is at his best, and, under his direction, a film centered around female boxing gains a distinct lyricism that only the great sports films have been able to achieve.

Female boxing may not appeal to all people, but it doesn’t need to do so. The film is about relationships and the way they complete our lives. It is about, as Scrap puts it, fighting for a dream that only you can see. “Million Dollar Baby” captures the very essence of these things, placing relationships and dreams into the center of the ring, showing them as they truly are and revealing the profound way in which they can affect our lives.