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Artwork copyright (c) 2004 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Repetitive but exquisitely beautiful score is a surprise from Eastwood


A brilliant film which deservedly won lots of Oscars, Million Dollar Baby tells the story of a beat up old boxing trainer who reluctantly accepts a female boxer into his training gym, gradually becomes like a father figure to her, and then stays with her through her dramatic rise and desperate fall, culminating in a tragic and very moving finale.  Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, it's almost certainly his finest hour as director, and for that matter it's one of the best acting performances of his career.  When the film begins he seems to be doing his chiseled old man routine yet again, but he goes on to display emotion and vulnerability which are rare in his work.

Despite occasionally using established composers like Lalo Schifrin, John Williams and Maurice Jarre on films he's directed, Eastwood has, by and large, stuck with his old friend Lennie Niehaus to provide music for the vast majority of his films.  Like others, I think this has generally been a mistake.  I'm sure that Niehaus's generally low-key and somewhat anonymous scores have been entirely at the director's request, but it's impossible not to wonder how much better some of Eastwood's movies may have been with "proper" scores underneath them.  In recent years, the actor/director has taken to writing the main themes for his films himself, generally acquitting himself well (particularly with his lovely theme for The Bridges of Madison County); for Mystic River he took the final step and wrote the entire score.

He's done the same again for Million Dollar Baby and, perhaps against the odds, has succeeded admirably.  His music is sensationally good within the film, full of emotion and passion and boosting it immeasurably; it's simple but entirely appropriate and is unquestionably one of the year's finest.  It doesn't fare quite so well on album, sadly, but it still works very well.  Its very simplicity is in fact the album's real downfall.  While the slight orchestration isn't necessarily an issue, the repetitiveness certainly is.  There are two main themes, a guitar piece and a piano piece, heard in the opening two tracks; both are very short, and both crop up innumerable times in the twenty cues on the album (which only runs for 35 minutes).  Each is extremely attractive and makes very nice listening, but sadly there is never any variety in presentation, save for simple string harmonies sometimes being added to the piano theme.  Only towards the album's end is any real new material introduced, most notably with the new theme heard first in "May Have to Lose It", a heartbreakingly beautiful piece which tugs at the emotions.  Even this, though, is later repeated in "Frankie's Dilemma" and "Frankie's Decision" - three tracks which run for identical lengths of time and I'd challenge anyone to actually find any differences between them.

I certainly don't want to be too critical because this is outstanding, moving, emotional, melodic music and taken in isolation nobody would ever guess that any of the main themes was by anyone other than a well-established film composer.  It is only in the lack of variety that the album loses points.  Not too many because the base material is so good, but even so this is a score which works sensationally well in the film (the year's best film, in my opinion) - but rather less so on CD.

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  1. Blue Morgan (:40)
  2. It's Nice Viewing (:57)
  3. Boxing Baby (2:25)
  4. Boxing Montage (2:44)
  5. Pick Up Money (:57)
  6. Nice Working with You (1:37)
  7. The Letters (1:20)
  8. Blue Diner (3:34)
  9. Deep in Thought (1:53)
  10. Driving (1:38)
  11. Blue Bear (:43)
  12. Frankie Horrified (1:07)
  13. They're Amateurs (1:16)
  14. May Have to Lose It (1:08)
  15. Maggie's Plea (2:56)
  16. Frankie's Dilemma (1:09)
  17. Frankie's Decision (1:09)
  18. Lethal Dose (1:57)
  19. Frankie's Office (1:05)
  20. End Credits (4:29)