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Original Issue

Under Review

Her daddy's dead, her brother's in prison, her sister's a welfare cheat and her mama weighs more than 300 pounds. Boxing, Maggie Fitzgerald tells trainer Frankie Dunn in Clint Eastwood's emotionally powerful Million Dollar Baby, "is the only thing I ever felt good doing." Dunn (Eastwood) owns a rundown gym in L.A. and reads Yeats. His estranged daughter sends back his weekly letters marked RETURN TO SENDER, and he tells Maggie (Hilary Swank) that women's boxing is simply "the latest freak show out there." But little by little Maggie's determination tugs at his heart, and his buddy Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman), an old fighter who lost an eye in his final bout but accepts his fate with a generous grace, persuades Frankie to work with her. The two make a formidable pair. Maggie wins again and again and again, until the film takes an unforeseen, heartbreaking turn. The performances are spot-on; the fluid fight scenes are tension packed. (Swank trained for three months and gained 19 pounds of muscle for her role.) Baby begins with a spare, intimate charm--a conversation between Eastwood and Freeman about holes in socks is hilarious in its inanity--and slowly builds into a moving allegory of redemption, personal responsibility and love.

--Nancy Ramsey