In his 56 years of movies (beginning with the 1955 Revenge of the Creature), Clint Eastwood has taken a beating and usually come out on top. In 2004, at 74, he was too old to fight in the ring, but as Frankie Dunn he could help young boxers realize their potential. Screenwriter Paul Haggis based his script on the stories of F.X. Toole, a former ringside cutman. That was Frankie’s trade in his prime. Now, with his pal Eddie (Morgan Freeman), he runs a gym for boxing hopefuls, most of them with no hope at all. The longest shot is Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), who hasn’t a prayer or a clue but is determined to be the champ. Can you guess what happens? Maybe not. The story has a sucker punch that reveals both the importance of family and the ways loyalty can trump official morality.
One of three Best Picture Academy Award winners with boxing scenes (after From Here to Eternity, for Montgomery Clift’s sideline as a fighter, and Rocky), the film won Oscars for Best Director (Eastwood), Best Actress (Swank) and Best Supporting Actor (Freeman). Million Dollar Baby works up a decent sweat in the gym, lands a surprise haymaker in the ring and ends up in a hospital, where Eastwood connects with his richest, sneakiest punch of all. Like Frankie, the movie is a tough creature with a heart. Like Eastwood, it’s a relic that dazzles you with its footwork, daring and class.