Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on September 2, 1988
Directed by John Sayles
Written by John Sayles, from the book by Eliot Asinof
Cast: John Cusack, Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, John Mahoney, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn, D.B. Sweeney, Michael Rooker, Perry Lang, Gordon Clapp, Bill Irwin, Kevin Tighe, Nancy Travis, Studs Terkel, John Sayles
Writer-director John Sayles, who scripted and directed the historical drama Matewan one year earlier, now set his sights on another historical drama, this time a well-known and tainted chapter in baseball history, the 1919 ‘Black Sox’ scandal, where a handful of players from the Chicago White Sox were offered payments from gamblers to throw the World Series. From there, in a nutshell, the Sox lost the series to the Reds, eight of the players involved were brought to trial, and those ‘eight men out’ were then banned from baseball for life.
What started off a little clumsy soon righted itself when the machinations of the fix began, and it was here I felt the story was at its strongest: showing us the off-the-field wheelings and dealings between the players and gamblers, and the background and buildup of the scandal itself. I wasn’t as satisfied, however, when the action returned to the diamond, where I felt the baseball scenes lacked the proper look and mechanics of an actual game…though I was impressed to see players leave their gloves on the playing field when an inning ended, a little-known practice that lasted into the 1950s.
Most of the actors—especially David Strathairn as pitcher Eddie Cicotte and Gordon Clapp as catcher Ray Schalk—at least possessed a respectable level of baseball skills and mannerisms, but the game moments could’ve been staged and executed more realistically, and as much as I like John Cusack, I just couldn’t accept him as a professional baseball player; thoughts of him as a comedic high school teen kept interfering with his portrayal of Buck Weaver, the Sox third baseman who had doubts about his participation in the fix, and the one the film seemed to hold its center on.
However, the proceedings did have an old-time sinister flair to them, and the historical aspect of the event was sufficiently told, but like many films that try to represent a bygone era, the props and locations had a brand-new ‘faux authentic’ feel to them. It’s too bad this wasn’t made into a mini-series instead, where the story could’ve delved deeper into the incidents and their characters. Major kudos, though, to the acting work of Sayles and author Studs Terkel, playing a pair of sportswriters who’d decided that something fishy was going on; these two provided me with the film’s most interesting characterizations. (7/10)