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Million Dollar Baby: 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

Million Dollar Baby (2004) movie poster Million Dollar Baby

Theatrical Release: December 15, 2004 / Running Time: 133 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Clint Eastwood / Writers: F.X. Toole (stories from Rope Burns); Paul Haggis (screenplay)

Cast: Clint Eastwood (Frankie Dunn), Hilary Swank (Maggie Fitzgerald), Morgan Freeman (Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris), Jay Baruchel (Danger Barch), Mike Colter (Big Willie Little), Lucia Rijker (Billie "The Blue Bear" Osterman), Brνan F. O'Byrne (Father Horvak), Anthony Mackie (Shawrelle Berry), Margo Martindale (Earline Fitzgerald), Riki Lindhome (Mardell Fitzgerald), Michael Peρa (Omar), Benito Martinez (Billie's Manager), Bruce MacVittie (Mickey Mack)

Buy Million Dollar Baby from Amazon.com: 10th Anniversary Blu-ray • DVD • Instant Video

Long one of the most popular box office draws in front of the camera, Clint Eastwood didn't garner much serious praise for directing himself in films since the early 1970s. That changed with 1992's dark western Unforgiven,
a late summer hit that went on to win Eastwood a directing Oscar on his first nomination and another for Best Picture as the film's producer. After that, Eastwood seemed to return to business as usual, directing movies that got decent reviews and did fine business while rarely acting for anyone else.

Then in 2003, Eastwood seemed to usher in a new phase of his long career: prestige filmmaker. The acclaimed and profitable drama Mystic River, in which Eastwood did not appear, drew six Academy Award nominations including Picture and Director. Eastwood seemed to appreciate such recognition because his next several films would be unable to avoid it. Opening at the end of 2004, Million Dollar Baby would give the director another taste of Oscar glory, winning him his second Best Picture and Best Director statuettes.

Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is dead set against training Maggie Fitzgerald in "Million Dollar Baby."

Adapted from Rope Burns, a 2000 novella by F.X. Toole (the pen name of boxing trainer Jerry Boyd), Million Dollar Baby opens with grizzled Los Angeles boxing cutman, trainer, and gym owner Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) being contacted post-fight by Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank). She wants him to be her trainer, but he doesn't train girls. Nonetheless, she pays in advance six months of membership dues to Dunn's gym, where she takes swings at punching bags well into the night.

Maggie, a 31-year-old waitress from Missouri, is stuck on Frankie taking her on, just as the aging veteran is dead set against training a girl. Frankie's right hand man and loyal employee "Scrap-Iron" Dupris (Morgan Freeman), who calls the gym his home, gives Maggie a few pointers on the side. Eventually, the persistent Maggie gets Frankie to commit to training her... at least until she can find a suitable manager.

Under Frankie's tutelage, Maggie quickly becomes a fierce boxer who's able to knock out every opponent within the first round. Other managers demand extra money under the table for their fighters to endure the embarrassment of stepping into the ring with Maggie for certain defeat. After some success, Maggie gets a big opportunity, a title match in Las Vegas. It will change both her and Frankie's lives.

Surprisingly, Morgan Freeman's portrayal of Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris remains the source of his only Oscar win to date. Mrs. Fitzgerald (Margo Martindale) isn't as grateful for her daughter's gesture as expected.

For a number of reasons, I really did not like Million Dollar Baby the first time I saw it. High among them was that it had dominated the Oscars, triumphing over my favorite of the leading contenders, Finding Neverland, and superior films that weren't even in the running (e.g. The Incredibles, The Passion of the Christ). Back when I saw the film, I had yet to appreciate Eastwood as a director, being underwhelmed by the few movies from his helm that I saw. One of the biggest sources of my dislike was the film's ending.
I won't spoil the surprising final act, only to say that I strongly opposed the stance being taken and the role that religion plays in it.

I expected this review would allow me an opportunity to criticize one of several early 21st century Academy selections with which I disagree. But on second viewing, I can't say I hate the film anymore. In recent years, my admiration for Eastwood's direction has grown with viewings of Mystic River, Changeling, and Gran Torino. Even if his more recent efforts -- Invictus, Hereafter, and J. Edgar -- haven't wowed to the same degree, there's something unique and beautiful about the weight he gives to these stylish, melancholy dramas.

The skill is on display in Million Dollar Baby, but it's tough to notice when you're approaching the film as undeserving awards bait. Distanced from that, the movie does strike chords for its characters and story. (However you feel about boxing, there's no denying that it's the individual sport that visually and dramatically best lends to cinema.) Every speaking part is fleshed out, no matter how brief their screen time may be. Many of these personalities are complex and layered.

On my first viewing, the character of Maggie Fitzgerald troubled me. I still find it an unrealistic one-dimensional hero, whose devotion to boxing and personality distance from her low-class family never makes much sense. I was able to sympathize with her and her big climactic decision more this time around, though I still feel that Swank doesn't make her very believable. Speaking of Swank, has any other actor won two Oscars with such an unimpressive career? Admittedly, I haven't seen much of her work, but there isn't all that much to see and the most recent of it (New Year's Eve, Conviction, P.S. I Love You) has been pretty terrible. It's bizarre to think that only Katherine Hepburn has more Best Actress Oscars to her name, with Swank's dual lead category wins tying her with the likes of Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh, Meryl Streep, and Elizabeth Taylor.

I suspect that my increased estimation is more a reflection of me than the film. In the years since my first viewing, I've grown more mature and far more knowledgeable about cinema. Having seen all but a handful of Best Picture winners and most of them within the past four years allows me much better context in which to place Million Dollar Baby's achievements. And while it's still nowhere close to a personal favorite, it's no longer one of the films whose winner status makes me shudder.

Around Oscar season, Warner Bros. took the opportunity to observe the film's tenth anniversary with this new and improved Blu-ray edition.

Million Dollar Baby: 10th Anniversary Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: February 4, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25) / Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available as Clint Eastwood Collection DVD (June 1, 2010; $5.97 SRP), 2-Disc Full-Screen Edition DVD ($12.98 SRP; July 12, 2005), and on Amazon Instant Video Previously released as Academy Awards Packaging Blu-ray (February 2, 2010), Blu-ray (November 14, 2006), 3-Disc Deluxe Edition DVD with CD Soundtrack and 2-Disc Widescreen Edition DVD (July 12, 2005)

VIDEO and AUDIO

I can't compare this Blu-ray's feature presentation to the one on the disc in the format's infancy back in 2006 (they may very well be identical, given that it's compressed to fit on a single layer), but this transfer stands tall on its own merits. Eastwood's cinematic 2.40:1 visuals are perfectly rendered with no evidence whatsoever that this was shot a decade ago. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio also satisfies, with everything from enveloping crowd noises on boxing scenes to Eastwood's gentle score.

Morgan Freeman is among those looking back on the film in the HD tenth anniversary retrospective "On the Ropes." James Lipton lays out his cards in front of him while interviewing Eastwood, Swank, and Freeman in early 2005.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

While studios have been moving away from
rereleasing catalog titles and giving them new bonus features, Warner makes this new edition worthwhile by adding two new items to the supplements slate.

First up comes an audio commentary by producer Albert S. Ruddy. He opens with some interesting remarks, detailing Hilary Swank's devotion to the project (she jogged 5 miles every night while shooting a film in South Africa), praising Clint Eastwood, and calling this his most difficult movie to get made. Before long, though, he's content to simply narrate the film, using the names of the actors, not the characters, and a bunch of clichιs and superlatives. Lulls grow as the film progresses. With the minimal of inside information shared, it's the kind of thing that a fan with no prior commentary experience could have supplied. Needless to say, listening to this isn't an outstanding use of your time.

The new video bonus is "Million Dollar Baby: On the Ropes" (26:04, HD), a solid retrospective documentary highlighted by new interviews of Eastwood, Swank, Morgan Freeman, Ruddy, and producer Tom Rosenberg. There's also an interview of Haggis, but it's a very low quality and may be as old as the behind-the-scenes footage shared. Everyone recalls how unlikely a project it was and how no one wanted any part of it. The other highlight is Swank recalling her vegetarian diet to bulk up by downing protein shakes and egg whites every hour and a half.

The remaining extras are from 2004-05 and presented in letterboxed standard definition unless otherwise noted.

Taped in 2005, "James Lipton Takes on Three" (24:45) has the "Inside the Actors Studio" host interview Eastwood, Swank, and Freeman around a table with their Oscars in hand and no audience. The awestruck emcee, who can't help but plug his long-running Bravo show a bit, asks about the importance of listening, Freeman's background in dance, and how and why Eastwood eases actors in and out of takes. The highlights include Swank discussing how she and her mother came to Hollywood with $75 and a Mobile Gas card, Eastwood reminding us his real voice isn't so gravely, and Freeman revealing the person he's learned the most from (Stacy Keach). It's kind of awkwardly edited and the sound quality is poor, but this is still a fun and special piece.

Lucia Rijker, whose villainess Billie "The Blue Bear" doesn't get nearly enough flak, discusses her experiences with boxing in "Born to Fight." Maggie (Hilary Swank) saves her coins in the theatrical trailer for "Million Dollar Baby."

"Born to Fight" (19:13) has Swank, Lucia Rijker, and other cast members talk about boxing,
its attraction, how women's boxing differs, and characters' perspectives on the sport.

"The Producers: Round 15" (13:05) gathers remarks from screenwriter Paul Haggis and his fellow producers Ruddy and Rosenberg. They discuss getting involved with the project.

Finally, Million Dollar Baby's theatrical trailer (2:28) is kindly preserved and in HD.

Everything from the film's since discontinued original two-disc DVD editions easily fits on a single Blu-ray here, though it's worth noting that some of those DVDs allegedly included a booklet with the source text, which this does not.

The menu puts some Eastwood piano score over the static cover art, which itself colorizes an old poster/cover design. The Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks, but does resume playback as a DVD does.

No inserts or slipcover accompany the plain eco-friendly blue keepcase.

Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) looks on as Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) gets her mouth guard put in by an Edward James Olmos-lookalike.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

My disappointment in Million Dollar Baby mostly disappeared in a second viewing several years after my first. It's still nowhere near the best film of 2004 (that would be The Incredibles) or the best directed by or starring Clint Eastwood, but its Oscar victories no longer bother me and I'm not even sure I greatly prefer much of its actual competition.

Warner's tenth anniversary Blu-ray adds an underwhelming commentary and solid new 26-minute featurette to what is a delightful presentation that may or may not improve upon the film's original release. While it's not a film I see many buying multiple times, those collecting Best Picture winners or simply loving the movie would be better served by this disc than any other edition, so long as they've got a Blu-ray player.

Buy Million Dollar Baby from Amazon.com: 10th Anniversary Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Directed by Clint Eastwood: J. Edgar • Invictus • Hereafter | Written by Paul Haggis: In the Valley of Elah
Clint Eastwood: Trouble with the Curve • For a Few Dollars More • Thunderbolt and Lightfoot | Hilary Swank: Amelia
Morgan Freeman: Last Vegas • Oblivion • Now You See Me • Oblivion • Gone Baby Gone • Dolphin Tale
Jay Baruchel: She's Out of My League | Anthony Mackie: Pain & Gain • Gangster Squad | Michael Peρa: American Hustle
Margo Martindale: August: Osage County | Riki Lindhome: Hell Baby | Brian F. O'Byrne: FlashForward: The Complete Series
Best Picture Winners: On the Waterfront • Chicago • No Country for Old Men • The King's Speech • Argo
Boxing: Rocky • The Fighter • Grudge Match • Real Steel • Annapolis
2004 Movies: Finding Neverland • Spider-Man 2 • The Incredibles • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Best Actress Winners: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest • The Queen • Black Swan • The Iron Lady • Silver Linings Playbook • Blue Jasmine

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Reviewed April 27, 2014.



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