Clint Eastwood's 2004 film, Million Dollar Baby, took home Oscar's that year for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Director and was nominated for three other categories. It was, and continues to be, widely regarded as an excellent film, a powerful and moving picture made with grace and style and so it makes sense that Warner Brothers would honor its tenth anniversary with a Blu-ray reissue. Technology has advance since it came out the first time and as that disc was light on extras and featured a lossless audio mix, that inaugural high definition offering was one that could have used a bit of an upgrade. And that's what we got… a bit of an upgrade. More on that in a bit though. What about the movie?
The movie follows an older boxing trainer named Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) who spends his days running a crummy smalltime gym in Los Angeles called The Hit Pit. Frankie hangs out at the gym a lot and spends a lot of his spare time conversing with Eddie ‘Scrap Irons' Dupruis, a former protégé who Frankie once managed all the way to a big time title fight. No just as old as Frankie, Scrap has a room at the gym. Their lives are changed seemingly at random when a young woman from Missouri named Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) wanders in. She's been working since her teen years as a waitress and realizes her options are slim, but she thinks she has what it takes to make it as a boxer.
Frankie turns her away. He isn't interested in training a girl and the fact that he's got issues with his own daughter, who he hasn't seen in ages, probably doesn't help. He also figures that at thirty-one, Maggie is too old to really make much of herself in the ring. But Scrap sees something in Maggie, who is nothing if not persistent, and he eventually convinces Frankie to take her on. He begrudgingly obliges and they team up to see where they can go with all of this, and of course, under Frankie's guidance Maggie starts to climb the ranks.
We'll leave it at that, because the less discussion of the film's third and final act the better (at least for those who haven't seen the movie). There's a lot going on in Million Dollar Baby, enough to make it more than just another boxing movie. We've all seen Rocky and the sequels, we've seen the retreads and rip offs and Million Dollar Baby is none of that. This is a movie that focuses in two core relationships, that being Frankie's building relationship with Maggie and his already fully fleshed out relationship with Scrap. They're both very important to the film, the first because it drives the plot and delivers the action and the excitement that comes from the sport itself, and the second because it lends very important insight into why that sport matters to each of the three core players in the story. Boxing matters to each of them for different reasons, the most important one is that, for Maggie, it represents the chance to do something more. She grew up with nothing, she's poor white trash, and she doesn't see a lot of other options in life that will allow her to work her way up. She wants the wisdom that she knows these two men can pass on, and when she gets it she does what she can to make the most of it.
The film is also interesting in how it uses some underlying themes to build depth and character. A key part of the movie is Frankie's relationship with God, the issue of faith being one that runs through the film. His relationship with his priest, Father Horvak (Brian F. O'Byrne), again gives us some insight into what matters to Frankie, and just as importantly, it also hints cleverly about the emotional baggage that he carries with him and the guilt that rather subtlety claws away at him. We also see, in a key scene, how Maggie's relationship with her parents lead to her having chosen the path she's wound up on. She really has no one but Frankie, something she's not afraid to tell him (though hardly in a romantic way). The movie is ripe with little scenes, quiet moments and snippets of dialogue, that really bring a fantastic amount of humanity to the three principal characters that drive all of this.
The movie is a dark one, it's not shot with garish colors and much of it takes place inside a grubby gym, but there's some nice style here. The fight scenes have plenty of impact and are nicely edited so that each hit means something, particularly during the finale. This is, however, a movie more concerned with character and performance than aesthetics. Sure it looks good and it has an effectively gritty tone, but what we come away with here is an appreciation for acting and for storytelling. All involved do fantastic work, Swank is tough and determined in the best possible way but believably fallible. Eastwood, often criticized for being limited in range and too stone faced, delivers solid emotional work here and uses his iconic visage to convincingly deliver sage wisdom and experience. He is the wise old man. Freeman, who also narrates, brings us work on the same sort of level. We know before it's explained to us that these two men have quite a past together, that they are dear friends who have been through a lot. How Swank's character learns from this is fascinating to watch and heartbreaking to behold.
Million Dollar Baby arrives on Blu-ray for the second time using the same transfer it was given the first go round. That means that the image is framed at 2.40.1 widescreen and that it uses VC-1 encoding rather than AVC encoding. It looks pretty decent but there are definitely spots where it looks like it could have been a bit better. Detail is generally pretty good in close up shots but some of the darker scenes lose out to some noticeable crush now and again. Color reproduction looks accurate, meaning that sometimes things look a little bit muted but this would seem to be in keeping with the look that the filmmakers had in mind for the movie. Skin tones appear realistic and lifelike, there's no obvious noise reduction or irritating edge enhancement creeping into the picture. Backgrounds never really show off the fine detail better HD transfers can but they definitely do improve over what a standard definition presentation could provide. Again, more often than not the movie looks pretty good, but for a reissue some will no doubt have hoped it would have looked better than what was served up the first time.
The first Blu-ray release featured a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track, there was no lossless audio option provided. While Warner recycled the transfer from that earlier release, they did at least see fit to give the movie an upgrade in the audio department as this reissue features a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. There's also a Spanish language track provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and optional subtitles offered up in English SDH, French and Spanish. As to how this lossless mix fares, it sounds quite good. The score makes nice use of the surround channels while effects are placed well throughout the mix. There's some interesting and fairly subtle background effects in a few scenes that help to fill the room really nicely while dialogue stays clean and clear, generally up in the front of the mix. Bass response is solid but never overpowering. This is a good track, it may not get as aggressive or enveloping as the latest high octane blockbuster might, but it's very effective and free of any problems.
There are two new extras on this disc, starting with an audio commentary that comes courtesy of the film's producer, Albert Ruddy. He speaks quite frankly about some of the troubles that arose in his efforts to get this movie made and from there gives a somewhat scene specific talk about his appreciation of what Eastwood and company were able to accomplish here, noting what works so well about the way in which they characters develop and how the movie flows at the right pace. He talks about the strengths of the script, of the directing style and of course of Swank's highly praised lead and along the way offers up some interesting bits of trivia and information.
The other new extra on the disc is Million Dollar Baby: On The Ropes, which is a twenty-six minute featurette made up of interviews with producers Albert Ruddy and Tom Rosenberg, director Clint Eastwood, screenwriter Paul Haggisa and cast members Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman. It's a decent look back at the movie and what was involved in making it, again with some focus on the difficulties that were encountered during the pre-production process. Once again there's a fair bit of emphasis on the quality of the acting in the movie as well as some appreciation for Eastwood's skills as a director.
Carried over from the first Blu-ray release is the twenty five minute featurette James Lipton Takes On Three which is a discussion with Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Hillary Swank and Inside The Actor's Studio host James Lipton. Here Lipton fires off questions to the three interviewees in his inimitably blunt manner and it makes for some interesting conversation between the four of them. Also carried over is the nineteen minute featurette Born To Fight which is an examination of the worldwide appeal of boxing mixed up with some comments from the cast in terms of how this works its way into the script for the feature. Last but not least, the disc also recycles the thirteen minute Producers Round 15 piece which explores how the story evolved from script to screen. The theatrical trailer for the feature, menus and chapter stops are also included here.
If you've already got the first Blu-ray release of Million Dollar Baby you're going to have to weigh the merits of a lossless audio upgrade and a couple of new extra features versus the purchase price, because you don't get anything in the way of an improved transfer here. The movie itself is a good one, Swank is every bit as solid in the lead as the praise levied upon her performance would have you believe and the story is moving and well told. It's a great movie and the disc comes recommended, particularly if you don't already have the first release.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.