A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the movie features brutally realistic fight scenes with graphic injuries. A character becomes paralyzed and asks to be allowed to die. Characters drink and smoke and use some strong language, including the "N" word. There are some mild sexual references and some ugly insults. Some viewers may be unhappy with the portrayal of a priest who uses bad language.
What's the story?
Tired old trainer Frankie (Clint Eastwood), abandoned by the prospect he hoped to take to the title bout, meets a scrappy but untrained would-be boxer. He initially refuses to train the kid, but he's won over, at first by the persistence, then by the heart of the young fighter. There's another connection between them, too. Frankie has no family but a long-estranged daughter, and the boxer's father is dead. The bond between them helps to ease both of their losses. One reason the relationship becomes so important to Frankie is that the boxer is a young woman. Maggie (Hillary Swank) gives Frankie the chance to bring all that's best in him to a nurturing relationship with a young woman about the age of his daughter, and Frankie gives Maggie the chance to be a champion.
Is it any good?
At first, MILLION DOLLAR BABY is a fresh, assured, and evocative take on the classic boxing formula. The details of the boxing world and Frankie's relationships with Maggie and with his long-time friend Eddie (Morgan Freeman, who also narrates) are warm and richly observed. Frankie and Eddie have the bickering banter of a longtime married couple, and pros Eastwood and Freeman riff off each other like jazz players who've been jamming for a lifetime. Eastwood is also marvelous with Swank in a performance that's fuller, fonder, and funnier than we've seen from him since the Any Which Way But Loose days. For the first half of the film, the narration, based on F.X. Toole's superb book and beautifully read by Freeman, is so vivid we can smell sweat and adrenaline.
Too bad Million Dollar Baby takes those great performances and throws some cliched sports metaphors their way. And when tragedy strikes, Frankie and Maggie have to make some tough choices. So does director Eastwood, and he makes the wrong ones, going for the manipulative and the maudlin, everyone lining up as either saintly or unredeemably awful.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what makes someone want to be a fighter. What does it mean to say that "everything in boxing is backward" and "sometimes the best way to deliver a punch is to step back?" How does that relate to the way the characters behave? Why does Frankie argue with the priest about theology? Do you agree with the sign in the gym that says "Winners are simply willing to do what losers won't?" What is it that winners are willing to do? How is the number one rule -- "protect yourself" -- applied by Frankie? By Maggie? By Eddie? Why did Maggie turn out so differently from her brother and sister? Families may also want to talk about Maggie's request and Frankie's decision.
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