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 "Working the bag, boss."


Margaret Fitzerald (Hilary Swank) is a down-and-out waitress striving for a better life. So she does what all down-and-out waitress do to help herself out - she learns how to box. The first portion of the movie deals with Margaret training herself at the Hit Pit trying to get Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) to train her into becoming a credible boxer. She eventually succeeds and is able to get Frankie and another trainer and former boxer Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman) to warm up to her.

After a good deal of training she enters into the world of professional women's boxing and becomes a remarkable fighter. Eventually the movie takes a turn for the worse.

Better Than It Sounds. Noted for its strong characters and interesting storyline, the film won four Oscars.

This film contains examples of:

  • Academy Award: Four, in fact. Clint Eastwood's second Best Director, Hilary Swank's second Best Actress, Morgan Freeman for Best Supporting Actor and Best Picture of 2004.
  • Arc Words: "Mo chuisle". Maggie doesn't find out what they mean until the end of the movie.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The movie generally makes a hash of the Irish it tries to use. Somewhat justified however in that none of the characters speak Irish, and Frankie, who most frequently attempts it, is trying unsuccessfully to learn the language to get in touch with his Irish heritage. Of particular note is the significant phrase "mo chuisle," which the film spells "mo cuisle" (nouns take a "h" after the second letter when they're possessed).
  • Badass Grandpa: Morgan Freeman's character, particularly when he single-handedly KOs an upstart Jerkass boxer.
  • Braids of Action: Maggie and most of the other female boxers.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor, poor Danger Barch.
  • Bury Your Disabled. Type 3 -- and not an Unfortunate Implication, because the writer/director/producer/actors clearly mean it.
  • Career-Ending Injury: To Maggie.
  • Cast the Expert: Maggie's opponent in her final match was played by Lucia Rijker, a champion female boxer in Real Life.
  • Casualty in the Ring: Eddie lost the eyesight in one of his eyes years ago.
    • And Maggie becomes a quadraplegic.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Maggie's story about her dog Axel and her father putting it down when it was sick. Actually used more skillfully in the film than in the short story, in which she tells the story right before asking Frankie to kill her. In the movie it comes a good hour beforehand.
    • Maggie asks if she should send some kind of gift to a girl whom she concussed in the ring, Frank dismisses it. It foreshadows that injuries happen in the ring, and that the fighters that did the injuring aren't expected to turn up again in the rest of the movie.
    • There are a lot of quick close-ups on the stool that Eastwood puts in the ring after each round. I bet that doesn't have anything to do with Maggie's death - oh wait.
  • Chiaroscuro: Used all over the place for dramatic effect.
  • Cool Old Guy: Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. Need I say more?
  • Corrupt Hick: Margaret "Maggie" Fitzgerald's family, who hail from the Ozarks. They care little about Maggie's well-being, and will cheerfully cross the Moral Event Horizon just to get her money. Maggie herself is a Defector From Decadence.
  • Cynical Mentor: Frankie Dunn.
  • Deadpan Snarker: All three lead characters love to exchange sarcastic remarks.
  • Dead Little Sister
  • Determinator: No matter how discouraging her circumstances or the people around her get, Maggie refuses to give up on her dream of becoming a boxing champion. After she's paralyzed, she's no less determined to end her own life.
  • Disappeared Dad: Maggie's father, who died long before she started her boxing career.
  • Downer Ending: And a controversial one at that.
  • Dueling Movies:
    • With regards to theme: Cinderella Man, a more conventional Oscar Bait boxing flick that came out in the same year, but ran out of buzz long before the awards season rolled round.
    • It was something of an upstart at the Oscars, as everyone was expecting The Aviator to be Martin Scorsese's long-awaited triumph. MDB strolled in without an ounce of hype and walked away with best picture and best director.
  • Dyeing for Your Art
  • Evil Foreigner: Billie the Blue Bear, described as a "former East Berlin prostitute" with no regard for sportsmanship or the safety of opponents.
  • Fake Irish: Averted in case of Frankie Dunn: the actor does have Irish ancestry. Hilary Swank, not so much, but her character doesn't have any connection to Ireland besides the last name Fitzgerald.
  • Foreshadowing: One of these days, that East German boxer is going to kill someone. For more, see above for Chekhov's Anecdote.
  • Genre Shift: Starts as sports movie about a woman trying to improve her life by becoming a boxer and ends as a massive Tear Jerker about assisted suicide.
  • Gretzky Has the Ball: During the title bout, the Blue Bear commits several fouls that would result in immediate automatic disqualification in a real boxing match, but only receives warnings and/or point deductions for them. This was parodied by, of all things, Scary Movie 4.
  • Gut Punch: or in this specific case a sucker punch from behind which triggered the Genre Shift
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Frankie and Eddie.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Shawrelle is played by Anthony Mackie, who is easily recognizable from The Hurt Locker and the Biggie Smalls biopic Notorious.
  • Inspirationally Disabled: Danger has shades of this.
  • Jerkass: Maggie's family, especially her mother, shows astounding levels of dickitude, with a generous helping of hypocrisy.
    • Her mother berates her for taking up boxing even though she's good at it and it's making her rich, insisting it's not something a lady should do. She herself is on welfare and doing nothing to improve her situation.
    • When she starts winning big purses, Maggie buys her mother a house. A house. She berates Maggie for not giving her cash instead. If she's a homeowner, you see, she won't qualify for welfare anymore and she doesn't want to work. Toward the end, we find out she never signed the ownership transfer paperwork even though she's living in the house, and it's a major plot point that Maggie still owns the house.
    • One last case: When Maggie is paralyzed, her family visits her in the nursing home, after spending a week at Disneyworld and Universal Studios, and tries to get Maggie to sign over all her money to them. This apparently crosses a line, as Maggie tells them that not only are they not getting one dime, if they or their lawyer ever speak to her again she'll sell the house out from under them.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Frankie.
  • Karma Houdini: Billie the Blue Bear.
    • Not neccessarily. It isn't shown (probably because Clint Eastwood felt that it would distract the audience from the fact that Maggie has been paralyzed), but the referee was getting annoyed with her constant breaking of the rules, and even threatened to disqualify her once. Bille was probably disqualified immediately once the doctors realized the injuries she had inflicted on Maggie after intentionally punching her while the stool was in the way.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: Makes use of Chekhov's Skill as Frankie uses his expert knowledge of adrenaline to do the deed.
  • Oireland: Invoked. Clint's character tries to rediscover his Irish roots by attending Catholic mass without understanding the substance of the religion, learning Gaelic reading William Butler Yeats (who mostly wrote in English), and giving Maggie an Irish boxing gimmick.
  • Opposing Sports Team: Not a team, but Billie the Blue Bear otherwise fits the trope with her intimidating aura and willingness to break the rules.
  • Oscar Bait: Due to the It Gets Worse ending, three huge stars as the main character, and usual triumph over adversity turning into even more adversity, this was a shoo-in.
  • Parental Substitute: Frankie, for Maggie.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Frankie makes some mildly sexist comments and initially refuses to do anything to help Maggie, though his opinion of her changes as the movie goes along.
    • Helping Maggie kill herself after she is paralyzed also at least partially counts for this.
  • Precision F-Strike:

 Frankie Dunn: So is Jesus a Demigod?

Father Horvak: There are no Demigods, you fucking Pagan!

  • Retired Badass: Eddie's one, as Shawrelle finds out.
  • Rule of Drama: As powerful as they are, the hospital scenes are a tad unrealistic. In Real Life, hospitalized patients have every right to decline treatment. If they're attached to a breathing machine against their will, they don't have to attempt suicide or beg friends to euthanize them. They can just ask doctors to turn off their respirator. And no hospital would ever keep a patient sedated 24/7 just to stop them from committing suicide--they would more likely get them psychiatric counseling or put them on anti-depressants.
  • Shoot the Dog: Maggie relates a story about her father euthanizing her family's crippled dog.
    • And Frankie later does the same thing for Maggie.
  • There Are No Therapists: Towards the end, Maggie becomes so despondent that she attempts suicide by biting her tongue and begs Frankie to pull the plug on her. The hospital's first reaction is to keep her sedated 24/7 so she can't attempt suicide--instead of getting her the psychiatric help that she obviously needs.
  • Tongue Trauma: After she's paralyzed, Maggie tries to commit suicide by biting through her tongue.
  • Training Montage: Maggie gets one, though minus the cheesy music.
  • What Might Have Been: Morgan Freeman originally auditioned for the role of Frankie before being cast as Eddie. Also, screenwriter/producer Paul Haggis wanted to direct this himself, but scheduling conflicts with Crash forced him to hand the project to Clint.
  • Word Salad Title: Million what-what? It makes more sense when you see the film, but you still wonder surely there must have been a better name for it.
  • Worst Aid: Frankie realizes how subpar the quality of care is at the hospital Maggie goes to after losing the title match and breaking her spine and arranges to have her moved to a better one.
  • You Are Not Alone: Frankie says words to this effect to Maggie after she is estranged from her family.