Malpaso Productions, Albert S. Ruddy Productions, Lakeshore Entertainment, Warner Bros. Pictures
Adalberto Maria Merli
Clint Eastwood returns to the ethic theme of responsibility with this “Million Dollar Baby”, already faced in “A perfect world” and “Mystic River”, in which the relationship between man and his destiny is shown through the story of a waitress whose passion for boxing transforms her into a million dollar girl before forcing her to choose between life and death. The “instinctive” choice of Dave Boyle-Sean Penn here becomes a conscious acknowledgement of responsibility on behalf of Frankie Dunn-Clint Eastwood, who deciding Maggie’s destiny also settles a personal score with God.
A nice moral film which avoids the risk of being pathetic because the story is only a pretext to talk, once more, of good and bad using a rigorous screenplay and an anti sentimental glance.
In the Italian version a lot of these considerations are lost. First of all, the voices are generally at fault giving us a rhetoric aftertaste, dull and somewhat affected. The defect is particularly bothersome in Renato Mori’s interpretation, moreover, the official voice of Morgan Freeman, who’s also the narrative voice of the film; evidently it’s the dubbing direction’s blame, which – pointing to the theme more than its significance – wanted to emphasize the sentimental effect, whilst, in my view, if they had kept the same distance like the original did between the story and the objective tragedy of the story, the film’s “moral” significance would have been underlined. Laura Lenghi in the role of Hilary Swank is well done and also some other dubbers of minor roles, in particular Davide Chevalier and Paola Giannetti.
The Italian dialogues are mediocre. Their principal fault is that they come from one person only, that of the dialogist. Subtle defect which at first sight might not even be noticed but which is, as far as I’m concerned, a serious sign of the adaptor’s inadequacy. Ferdinando Contestabile – the admiral-dialogist – said, more or less, that the way to write good dialogues is to make priests talk like priests and vendors talk like vendors. He also suggested a little trick, to reread the different parts separately in order to avoid the risk of similarity between the roles. It’s a piece of advice which I wish to refer exactly as it is to Mrs. Bertini. Because in “Million dollar baby” all the characters of the film use the same linguistic quality. It wouldn’t have been wrong in itself seeing the common social origin of them all although it’s restrictive to think that the social origin is enough in itself to determine the language used. So we could talk about superficiality up to this point. The real problem is that, despite the social-cultural origin being medium-low for all of them (and decisively low for the star), the common language is almost elegant, ‘polished’ which, after a bit, is extremely bothersome. For example, Frankie, the elderly trainer has frequent conversations with the parish priest, to whom he expresses a series of theological doubts. One of these regards God and the story of the Trinity ("la storia della Trinità"). Why does someone who defines the Trinity a “story” continue with “una specie di pane burro e marmellata infilati nel medesimo sacchetto” (“a sort of bread butter and marmalade put in the very same bag” «snap crackle and pop all rolled up in one big box»)? The absurdity of the metaphor (bread butter and marmalade is a classic trio, in or outside a bag), which could pass unobserved, is piteously underlined by that “medesimo” (very same) which on the lips of a life-hardened man like Frankie just does not fit. Why should we be surprised, if the same Frankie calls the doctor on the ring an ‘incompetent’, defines Maggie’s robe as ‘pure silk’, and hires bagpipers for a match?
The linguistic respectability of clear feminine origin associated to boxing creates monstrous errors: the public at the match (which according to the narrating voice loves violence) incites the boxers with «colpiscilo» “hit him” (what else should they do?); Frankie teaches Maggie to train with the speed bag advising her to «assumi una posizione atletica come se dovessi colpire qualcosa» “assume an athletic position as if you were about to hit something” and when she’s in the ring and has a broken nose from which a lot of blood falls, he orders her to «respira» “breathe” (maybe he meant to say breathe in with your nose); Maggie, during a match, to the question on the boxer’s rule, answers: «devo proteggermi continuamente» “I must constantly protect myself”; the two men talk between them about “light weights” when we’d expect a bit more slang, but maybe it’s better that way seeing as the one time they say «welter» it’s pronounced “uelter”.
To conclude, a series of mistakes and misunderstandings which render the tragic saga almost ridiculous: Scrap, narrative voice of the film, warns us with a tone of voice of someone who’s seen them all that «ci sono infinite possibilità per raggiungere i vari strati di carne, e Frankie le conosceva tutte» “there are infinite possibilities to reach various layers of meat and Frankie knew them all (meat doesn’t have layers, it has skin if anything). Frankie, regarding his daughter whom he hasn’t seen for years affirms with confidence (is he a fortune-teller?) «non pesa tanto» “she doesn’t weigh much”. Maggie, regarding her mother who stayed in her hometown, says she weighs 140 kilos, and we expect a typical big Midwest woman. When the lady finally appears on screen, it’s clear that at the most, she weighs 140 pounds. Throughout the film we see Frankie studying Gaelic. When the girl asks him the meaning of her Irish nickname “Macushla” which he gave to her, why does he answer «non lo so, è in gaelico» “I don’t know it’s Gaelic”? But the best of all is the one which opens the film: the doctor on the ring can’t stop the blood flowing from a wound on a boxer’s cheekbone and says: «non si rimargina» “it’s not healing”. Fine, man’s challenge with God, but to begin a story with a miracle is perhaps a little excessive.
[original review in Italian by Giovanni Rampazzo]