Million Dollar Baby’ and worth every penny

Last week, I wrote in a column on the Golden Globes that Hilary Swank didn’t deserve her Golden

Globe award. I take that back. While Imelda Staunton gave a powerful performance in "Vera Drake," Hilary Swank shines in "Million Dollar Baby" as a working-class woman whose only dream is to be a professional boxer. I challenge anyone to see the movie’s in-ring scenes and tell me Swank hasn’t completely immersed herself in her role. She literally pulls no punches.

The plot concerns Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), a trainer and gym owner down on his luck, who agrees to train poor waitress Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) after she pesters him by spending hour after hour working out in his gym. Dunn has just lost his top fighter to a manager who promised more lucrative returns and he’s terribly tentative about training another fighter. Also involved in the story is gym janitor Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman), an ex-fighter who shares a storied past with Dunn. The plot takes a shocking turn midway into the movie and I won’t reveal much except to say that what happens manages to be both heartbreaking and bittersweetly triumphant.

It’s the solid acting from the three leads that helps "Million Dollar Baby" rise above the many boxing

clich퀌�s peppered throughout the script. The world-weary trainer, the old boxer with a past, and

the poor fighter armed with just a dream are staples of boxing movies past. But Eastwood, Morgan and Swank imbue their characters with passion and dedication that make their respective boxing archetypes seem fresh and full of life. In the case of Eastwood and Freeman, we can see the hard lives they’ve led written all over their faces. Eastwood, the director, realizes that there is a power in letting us see what age can do to the body, especially in a movie about the toll that life, not just boxing, can take on you. Swank is the opposite, playing a woman technically past her boxing prime, but so full of determination and vigor that she radiates whenever she’s on screen.

"Million Dollar Baby" is essentially a boxing fable. Those who know a thing or two about the sport of boxing will no doubt have a few quibbles with the plot, but it’s hard to quibble with the film’s spirit.

One of Frankie Dunn’s sayings in the movie is that boxing is an unnatural act and therefore everything in the sport is backwards. If this is true, then "Million Dollar Baby" reveals that it takes an unnatural strength to master an unnatural act.