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Eastwood’s ‘Million Dollar Baby’ is a true classic

PHOTO PROVIDED Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) manages Margaret “Maggie” Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) to a title shot in the Oscar-winning “Million Dollar Baby.” The film won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor.

Clint Eastwood is truly an American treasure. No matter what you think of his politics, the man has made some amazing films in his twilight years. Perhaps you’ve seen “Unforgiven,” “Gran Torino” or more recently, “The Mule.” However, Eastwood’s masterpiece is “Million Dollar Baby,” a 2004 film set in the sports world.

Eastwood directed, co-produced, scored and starred in “Million Dollar Baby,” which tells the story of gym owner Frankie Dunn (Eastwood), a grisly old boxing manager who has had his share of bad luck and troubled family life. He protects his fighters to a fault, sometimes keeping them out of championship bouts where they might be overmatched.

One day, Margaret “Maggie” Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) enters his life. A girl who lived in the Ozarks and came from nothing, Fitzgerald begs Dunn to train and manage her, but he refuses. “I don’t train girls,” Dunn says.

Fitzgerald bonds with Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupuis (the amazing Morgan Freeman), who agrees to teach her a thing or two about boxing.

Eventually, Maggie charms her way into Dunn’s heart and he agrees to train her and get her a manager. There is quite a bit of repartee between the two, which adds to the likability of both characters.

Dunn finds Maggie a manager, but things don’t go as planned and he has to intervene. Much to Dunn’s chagrin, he begins managing her.

Almost immediately, Maggie begins dominating fights. She doesn’t get a lot of work in during the fights because she is so good, knocking out her opponents in the first round — usually.

The bond between Maggie and Dunn is undeniable. He gives her a nickname Mo Chuisle (misspelled in the film as “mo cuishle”), which the crowd chants when she enters the ring and in some scenes, during her matches.

Maggie quickly works her way up the ranks of the women’s boxing scene. Before you know it, she’s the sweetheart of the boxing world and getting a title shot against Billy “The Blue Bear” Osterman (Lucia Rijkaer). That’s where “Million Dollar Baby” takes a surprising and very dark turn. If you haven’t seen the film, I’m not going to spoil it for you here.

“Million Dollar Baby” is one of those films that will stick with you for quite some time. I saw it in the theatres 16 years ago and while I loved every minute of it, I vowed I would never watch it again. I broke that rule last weekend while scrolling through Netflix.

“Million Dollar Baby” won several Oscars — and they were well-deserved. Swank won Best Actress (her second win), Freeman won Best Supporting Actor and Eastwood won for Best Director. The film also won Best Picture. It was nominated for several others, including Eastwood as Best Actor.

One could argue that “Million Dollar Baby” is simply a boxing movie. But it’s way more than that. It’s about relationships, life, death and the inner demons we battle on a daily basis. Prepare to be blown away by “Million Dollar Baby” — it is truly a work of art.

“Million Dollar Baby” is rated R for boxing violence, coarse language and some adult themes. It’s available on Netflix.

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Chris Morelli is a staff reporter for The Express.

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