Million Dollar Baby is not a boxing film. Comparisons to Rocky or Raging Bull are pointless. This is more than that. It’s deeper, more involved, and something else entirely.
To expect a boxing film, or worse, just a sports film, is setting yourself up for disappointment. With the exception of one fight, every match could be cut from the movie, and it wouldn’t lose any of the impact. This isn’t the overblown type of movie where each pugilist takes 1,000 punches to the head and keeps going either. It’s a drama, and brilliant one at that.
It’s the type of film where the performers acting are too good to be noticed. You’re not thinking about Clint Eastwood or Morgan Freeman. You’re watching Frankie Dunn and Eddie Dupris. The story doesn’t stray very far from the beginning either. It’s focused, giving full attention to a small set of flawlessly created characters, simply to create a final act that you’ll never forget.
Unfortunately, some people believe there’s some sort of political statement here. To believe that is your own fault, and the film is lost. What the characters do and how they make their decisions is how they’re set up and what they have become. If you can’t understand that, you’re watching a different movie.
There’s also a fantastic job of foreshadowing at work in which basic, natural conversation develops a character and sets up the sequences that come. Even if you figure out the end result early, it’s practically impossible to know how it’s actually going to happen. When that time comes, it’s hard to watch. That’s the sign of a truly great film.
If there are any complaints to be had, it’s that the third act should come sooner. It’s where the movie really picks up and becomes involving and the emotional attachment begins. Still, there’s not a moment where this movie loses the impact it’s trying to convey, whether it’s through brief moments of humor or brutal drama. It deserves every piece of hype and every award it received. (***** out of *****)
The atmosphere here, with deep shadows (which characters are occasionally hidden behind) and slightly washed out colors, is preserved in this masterful transfer. Black levels are simply amazing, creating a necessary contrast against the bright colors. The muted, blue/green tone that finishes the film is captured as it should. Darker backgrounds feature noticeable grain and some of the final scenes have a major problem with chroma noise if your TV is not properly calibrated. Otherwise, this is a flawless transfer. (*****)
It’s rare for a crowd to be noticeably immersive. Usually it’s subtle and hard to detect, but not here. Fans ringside spout banter and chant, and it’s all coming from a different direction than the basic audience cheering and reactions. There’s little to no LFE use here, keeping the boxing scenes far more subdued than something like Rocky. That’s not a complaint; it keeps the subtlety the movie is going for. Dialogue is a problem, though it’s not a problem with the audio mix. There’s a lot of low level talking going on, and the assistance of subtitles may be necessary. (****)
There are two versions of the DVD available. The three-disc set contains the soundtrack, and that’s the only thing not included in the standard two-disc set. Strangely, this shouldn’t be a dual disc presentation. The features are meager, and could have (should have for that matter) been included on a single disc.
Producers Round 15 is a basic talking heads feature (like much of the special features) as they discuss the influences and reasons behind making the film. Born to Fight runs 19-minutes as Hilary Swank discusses her training alongside the other actors who showcase their characters. James Lipton Takes on Three is an interview with the three main stars. The theatrical trailer resides on the same disc as the film. (**)
If you have not seen this movie, do not let anyone ruin it by spoiling the ending. The entire movie depends on it. Second time viewers will find it just as hard to take. It loses no impact. It’s a film that practically requires a second viewing.
Edited: Tan The Man