a scene near the beginning of Million Dollar Baby in
which Clint Eastwood's character, Frankie Dunn, tells Morgan
Freeman's character, Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris, to buy
the cheap, generic bleach to clean up around the gym.
"Scrap" tells Frankie that the cheap stuff doesn't
smell as good as the real Clorox bleach. "Bleach,"
Frankie says in turn, "smells like bleach." This is a
line that, in any other movie, would have probably been meant for
a small chuckle or a throwaway. In Million Dollar Baby,
however, that very conversation about bleach tells more about the
transformation that takes place within Frankie Dunn throughout
the film than any other moment in the film.
When we first meet Frankie Dunn, he's beaten down and disheveled.
His fighter wins another bout, but after the fight has to face
the humiliation of helping Frankie push his car out of its
parking spot because it refuses to go in reverse. Such is the
life of a trainer who was once "the best cut man in the
business," but has now been left to train fighters in an
aging gym that barely makes money. Frankie's been hurt before and
he's made some mistakes. He's a guy who knows and loves the
"sweet science" of boxing - can't get it out of his
blood, in fact - but can't stand to watch his fighters get hurt.
He "protects" his fighter out of a title shot. He can't
take the pain. Not anymore, at least.
when we meet Frankie, pretty much everything is black and white
in his eyes. "Bleach smells like bleach," he says. It's
not about "getting your shot" or at least making a run
for the title. Nothing less than winning that fight is worth it
to Frankie. It's simply not worth the pain to get there and lose.
Everything is black and white. "I don't train
girls," he says. That is, until he meets Maggie Fitzgerald
and all that he knows suddenly changes. And once, with the help
of Maggie's stubborn nature and tendency to not do what
Frankie says, he begins a transformation that will effect every
single decision he makes throughout the rest of the film.
reason I go into such great detail about Frankie's transformation
in Million Dollar Baby is that, aside from everything
you've already read about the film and all the controversy that
surrounded it, Frankie's journey is just as important to the film
as Maggie's. So much has already been written about how great a
film Clint Eastwood has crafted that there's not a whole lot left
for me to say in that department. Everything you've read is true.
Million Dollar Baby is an astonishingly good piece of
cinema. It has heart where most films do not, and it takes
chances that most modern films would never even imagine taking.
It was my favorite film of 2004, and will most likely stay one of
my favorite films for a very long time. That being said, I
decided not to talk mainly about why the film is so great, how
wonderful the acting and directing are, how Hilary Swank got into
such good shape for the film, and how people have claimed that
many of the film's characters are stereotypical. Been there, read
So, without giving anything away, I mention all this background
about Frankie's great transformation because it directly relates
to all the controversy that surrounded the film upon its release.
Whether or not you agree or disagree with what Frankie (and,
essentially, Maggie) do near the end of the film does not make
one iota of a difference. Everyone has their opinion and that's
fine, but the more important question is whether or not you
believe that Frankie and Maggie would have made the decision that
they make. It's a difficult question, to be sure, but the way
that Million Dollar Baby sets up Frankie and Maggie's
characters throughout the first half of the film, the answer to
that question becomes strikingly clear as a resounding
"yes." It is totally believable that these characters
would do exactly what they do near the end of the film. That's
the thing that I find so baffling about all the controversy. Million
Dollar Baby isn't preaching to you. It's not telling you to
act in this way, were you ever in the situation, but it's simply
showing you what Frankie and Maggie do. It is absolutely true to
their characters at that point in the film, and for that,
everyone involved with the film should be applauded for finding
the truth in these people.
said it before, and I'll say it again: believe everything you've
read about how great a film Eastwood has crafted with Million
Dollar Baby. The performances are excellent all around, the
boxing scenes are realistic, punishing, and brutal, and the film
has some great unexpected, intelligent twists that makes it much
more interesting than the film's first half would lead you to
expect. It deserves every single Oscar® it received. Rarely do
we see a transformation as dramatic as the one that Frankie Dunn
undergoes in Million Dollar Baby. And rarely do we see
that transformation come about as a result of a female that isn't
exactly a love interest. What Maggie Fitzgerald does to Frankie
Dunn is much more than just show him that she can fight, that he
was wrong about training girls, and that sometimes the greatest
knockout is one that doesn't come from your fists. She reminds
him that bleach doesn't always smell like bleach. And that is
something that he'll carry with him for the rest of his life.
Dollar Baby is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen
format that looks absolutely stunning. The film's dark color
scheme is beautifully presented with rich blacks and starkly
contrasting whites and grays. While most of the film chooses to
employ these darker hues, the few scenes that do employ more
vibrant colors are bright and vivid. Fleshtones are accurate,
color saturation is spot-on, and detail is extremely intricate
and deep. Shadows and lighting, which play a major role in the
film's look, are extremely well delineated. The only minor issue
that I could find with this transfer is the slightest hint of
shimmering and edge enhancement. The problem, however, is so
negligible that most viewers won't even be able to see it.
Nonetheless, this is an absolutely wonderful visual presentation
that makes Million Dollar Baby look like a million
audio on this disc is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 format
that does an excellent job of providing the emotional cues of
quieter scenes while also showcasing the brutal effects of the
action-filled boxing scenes. Dialogue is always clear, crisp, and
distinct, which is especially important in the quieter scenes
near the end of the film. The soundtrack is well balanced across
all channels, and spatial separation is very good. The score
comes through beautifully, especially when helped by the surround
channels, and never overwhelms the rest of the track. The
discrete surrounds do a wonderful job of providing ambience
throughout the film, but they really earn they keep during the
boxing scenes. The rear channels provide enough crowd noise and
other surround effects to place you right in the middle of the
action, while the .1 LFE channel brings the low-end frequencies
into your living room with each and every landed punch. What
makes this track so good, however, are not the pulse-pounding
effects of the boxing scenes. It is, instead, the track's dynamic
range, which allows Million Dollar Baby to sound great
whether it's during an action scene or a much quieter dialogue
scene. That is what makes this track an excellent audio
presentation for an excellent film.
For a three-disc "deluxe edition," this set contains a
surprisingly small amount of extra material. The three main
supplements are found on the second disc, and add up to
approximately an hour's worth of features.
The first, and best, extra on the second disc is a 20-minute
featurette called "Born to Fight." A
compilation of talking-head interviews and film clips, the
featurette - mostly through the eyes of real-life boxer and
actress Lucia Rijker (she plays "Billie The Blue Bear"
in the film) - examines the sport of boxing in Million Dollar
Baby. Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Jay
Baruchel, and Anthony Mackie also lend their thoughts to this
featurette, but it mostly belongs to Rijker as she talks about
what it's like to be a fighter and how Maggie Fitzgerald's story
parallels some aspects of her own life. The participants also
talk more generally about the film, its story, and its
characters, but the main focus here is on the influence of boxing
itself. "Born to Fight" is, ultimately, an interesting
and insightful featurette, but there are a few too many clips
from the film included leading to a more produced feeling than I
would have preferred.
included is a 13-minute featurette called "The
Producers' Round 15," which employs the same
interviews-mixed-with-clips approach as the first feature.
Beginning with a very appropriate quote about moviemaking from
Clint Eastwood, the participants this time around include
Producer Albert S. Ruddy, Producer/Screenwriter Paul Haggis, and
Producer Tom Rosenberg. They speak candidly about the difficult
task of bringing F.X. Toole's Rope Burns to the big screen
as Million Dollar Baby. Ruddy is, by far, the most
entertaining as he talks about how he had to get Toole drunk in
order to get him to sign over the film rights. Otherwise, we hear
the usual chatter about the screenwriting process from Haggis
(and how surprised he was that Eastwood wanted to shoot his first
draft), and the customary back patting from Rosenberg. Not nearly
as engaging or insightful as "Born to Fight," this
featurette is still a worthwhile addition to the film.
The third, and final, extra on the second disc is a 25-minute
interview segment called "James Lipton Takes on
Three." Most people probably know Lipton as the
host of his own interview show called Inside the Actor's
Studio. Or, better yet, maybe you know him from the
hilarious Will Ferrell impression on Saturday Night Live.
Either way, you probably already know that Lipton is just about
one of the most annoyingly pretentious guys on the planet. His
signature stack of blue note cards contain some of the silliest
self-congratulatory questions one could pose to an actor. Why
Warner Bros. chose to allow Lipton to host a roundtable interview
with Eastwood, Swank, and Freeman is beyond me. Nevertheless, the
interview takes place the morning after Million Dollar Baby
snagged four Oscars®. The actors mostly repeat things that we've
already heard in the previous segments and sometimes seem baffled
by the absurdity of some of Lipton's questions. There's not a
whole lot to be gleaned from this feature, except maybe learning
that Eastwood does yell "Action!" at the beginning of
takes, and that Morgan Freeman fancies himself a bit of a dancer.
A different approach (or maybe a different host) might have made
this featurette interesting, but unfortunately we're stuck with
Also included in this "deluxe edition" is a third disc
that is actually a Million Dollar Baby
CD soundtrack. Eastwood's beautifully southern score is
collected on this compact disc that is identical to the
stand-alone CD soundtrack that was released around the same time
as the film hit theaters. The CD sounds just fine and for
someone, like myself, who collects soundtracks this is an
excellent addition to the Million Dollar Baby package.
Keep in mind, however, that there is also a 2-disc version of the
DVD that contains all the same extra material found on this set
except for the soundtrack CD. The inclusion of the soundtrack, in
my opinion, is enough to warrant purchasing the 3-disc set, but
if you already own the soundtrack CD then you may want to opt for
the simpler set.
Finally, included on the first disc, is the theatrical
trailer for Million Dollar Baby.
Dollar Baby went from being a small Clint Eastwood project
that endured several snags along the way toward getting made, to
being the critical darling of 2004 and the best boxing film since
Raging Bull. It is simply that good. Eastwood
just seems to get better with age, Hilary Swank proves that Boys
Don't Cry wasn't a fluke, and Morgan Freeman is Morgan
Freeman. Add to that an interesting cast of supporting
characters, a couple well choreographed, realistic fight scenes,
and a twist that will put you down for the count and you've got
one of the best films to hit the cinemas in several years. Put
aside all the controversy, and you've got a film that has an
incredible amount of heart and characters that believably grow
and change. What more can I say? Million Dollar Baby
simply floored me.
Warner Bros. has seen fit to offer the film in two versions: a
2-disc set and the 3-disc set that I've discussed here.
Everything is the same except for the inclusion of the CD
soundtrack in the 3-disc set, so if you can live without the
soundtrack (or already own it), then the 2-disc version should
suit you fine. Either way, you'll be getting the best film of
2004 in a stunningly beautiful transfer, an excellent audio
presentation, and a few nice extra features. A more lavish set of
extra features (and the dumping of the James Lipton segment)
would have made me much happier, but the fact that a few of the
extras are worthwhile, and Million Dollar Baby is such a
great film, makes it easy for me to tell you that this DVD comes