Knight at the Movies ARCHIVES
The Feel Bad Movie of the Year and A Compelling Doc:
Million Dollar Baby, Saints & Sinners
12-15-04 Knight at the Movies column
By Richard Knight, Jr.

Poor Hilary Swank!  Raped and murdered in Boys Don’t Cry, brutally abused by her red neck husband (Keanu
Reeves!) in
The Gift, nearly burned alive in the sci-fi dud The Core and now pummeled virtually non-stop as boxer
Maggie Fitzgerald in the new Clint Eastwood picture,
Million Dollar Baby.  Perhaps Swank is drawn to these
earnest but determined women who fight against incredible odds (but never seem to come out on top) or maybe
she figured that a return to a victim of circumstance character would add some luster to her career after several
box office flops.  No matter what her reasons, though the picture is literally the “feel bad” movie of the year, she
gives a beautiful, restrained performance.

I must admit up front that I’m not predisposed toward ANY boxing film – I was much more interested in the
relationship between Cathy Moriarty and DeNiro in
Raging Bull than the fight scenes, for example – so to say that I
was under whelmed by the movie’s tight focus on the blood sport and its by the numbers set up is being generous.  
At the outset, the crusty Frankie Dunn (Eastwood in yet another variation on his gallery of sourdoughs), the best
“cut man” in the business, is quietly, desperately trying to stop the blood flowing from his boxer’s eye before the
fight is called.  We know that this time he’ll get the blood to stop but before the movie’s over (this being another
Eastwood treatise on Catholic guilt and the search for forgiveness like last year’s
Mystic River) it’s gonna
metaphorically spill all over the audience.

It’s also a given that sooner or later the poetry reading Frankie is going to agree to train the “girlie” boxer and not
just because his former fighter, current gym manager, and verbal sparring partner Eddie “Scrap-Iron” (Morgan
Freeman) is going to secretly make it happen.  Frankie’s estranged from his daughter (and as part of his self-
inflicted penance, attends Mass everyday to devil the irritated Priest) and training Maggie will give him a new
lease on life.  Scrap sees this and though Frankie resists, the “grumpy old men” relationship the two share
eventually prevails.

Maggie describes herself as “white trash,” lives in a crummy hotel room, works as a waitress, and frankly tells
Frankie, “This is the only thing that makes me happy.”  She batters at a punching bag hard through the night
(almost in darkness) and though she calls Frankie, “Boss,” once he’s released her gift, she can’t hold it back.  Soon
she’s setting the world on fire in a series of fetching boxing outfits and the usually cautious Frankie then does
something against his better instincts.  All those night scenes in the gym (the film’s lit like a slasher picture) should
have subconsciously warned us “Tragedy Ahead” but when it comes, the picture changes tone so quickly that I felt
like I’d been knocked out.

The film is being described as “
Rocky in a bra” but “Ice Castles with boxing gloves” would be a more apt
description – without the uplift of that final triumphant skate around the rink.  Scrap serves much the same
function as Freeman’s character did in
The Shawshank Redemption.  He narrates the story and his character’s role
as the caretaker of the broken down gym (which seems to be around the corner from Vince Vaughan’s place in
Dodgeball) allows for several plot filler scenes with the Hit Pit’s regulars (including Anthony Mackie from Brother
to Brother
).  Mostly, Freeman’s character serves to explain the emotionally stilted Frankie and the emotionally
damaged Maggie for us but stops short of stating the movie’s underlying theme: “When life hands you
lemons…expect more lemons.”  Perhaps the triumph of the movie will be multiple Oscar nominations – what better
way to reward all this suffering – but who gets left holding the bag of lemons?  Three guesses.


Saints and Sinners is another movie in which the Catholic Church plays a starring role.  Here, its huge
influence over the lives of even those it has dispossessed – like the gay couple Ed and Vinnie – comes center
stage.  Ed and Vinnie have each gone through difficult coming out processes (what middle-aged gay men have
not?) complicated by their continued devotion to the church (seen vividly through their association with Dignity –
the church’s unofficial, gay facsimile).  They want to get married – and not just with the cake, the flowers and the
DJ – but in a ceremony that contains rituals sacrosanct to the Catholic religion and naturally, forbidden to gay

As the documentary begins, the first feature from directors Abigail Honor and Yan Vizinberg, Ed is on the phone
dialing up priest after priest looking for one to perform the ceremony for he and Vinnie.  Of course they can’t find
one and so settle on a Catholic service in an Episcopal Church performed by a Dignity priest.  With that question
settled at the outset and knowing that the “wedding” (the word that both partners insist on) won’t having any legal
meaning, the film focuses on smaller roadblocks that stand in the couple’s way – like whether or not at the last
minute Vinnie’s sister will show up, if the New York Times will select the duo as the first Catholic gay couple in the
wedding announcement section of the paper, and if taking communion from the Dignity priest is a no-no.  

Gay marriage as documentary subject material may seem to be wearing thin but this small, tightly focused film,
nicely shot, scored and edited, has some fresh things to say on the subject and the quiet persistence of Ed and
Vinnie to get married within the confines of a religion that has “officially” cast them out is quite moving.
Hilary takes a licking and keeps on ticking, two men looking for recognition