The great Chicago White Sox team of 1919 is the saddest team to ever win a pennant. The team is bitter at their penny pincher owner, Charles Comiskey, and at their own teammates. Gamblers take advantage of this opportunity to offer some players money to throw the series. (Most of the players didn't get as much as promised.) But Buck Weaver and the great Shoeless Joe Jackson turn back at the last minute and try to play their best. The Sox actually almost come back from a 3-1 deficit. Two years later, the truth breaks out and the Sox are sued on multiple counts. They are found innocent by the jury but baseball commissioner Landis has other plans. The eight players are suspended for life, and Buck Weaver, for the rest of his life, tries to clear his name. Written by
Patrick Lynn <email@example.com>
Eight Men Out provides a "Reader's Digest" version of the complicated events surrounding the 1919 World Series.
If you forgive the fact the film has to simplify certain aspects of the conspiracy in order to make the film easier to digest, then you will find that Eight Men Out is a worthy film and in the category of "baseball movies" it's one of the best.
There are anachronisms in the film here and there, the worst of which is Buck Weaver's question asking which of the lawyers was the "Babe Ruth" of law. Sure Babe Ruth was coming into his own by 1920, but most ballplayers in that era would not have place Ruth in the class of Cobb, Tris Speaker or Walter Johnson. For baseball fans, this line in particular really comes off as shallow, especially since the rest of the film really tries to capture the "dead-ball" era. For the most part though, this film feels and sounds a lot like America right after World War I ends, a fascinating time and place.
Studs Terkel steals the show in my estimation. His character in the film is not far from whom he is in real life and his authenticity is undeniable. John Sayles is a little stiff by comparison and his singing in the railway car (which according to legend did actually happen), is rather difficult to bear. None the less, his direction makes up for his foibles as an actor.
Straitharn is another gem in this movie, and once again this actor seems to get right to the soul of the characters he is given to play. Eddie Cicotte's dilemmas are written all over Straitharn's face in every scene, he's also given some of the best dialog in the film. Cusack plays his part well, despite the fact that many of his scenes are reduced to clichés. Cusack's best moments are when he is frustrated about his inclusion in the conspiracy trial, despite the fact he gave his all to try and win the series. His outbursts in the courtroom seem perfect, as if drawn from the trial transcripts themselves.
Joe Jackson is given unfair treatment. If "Field of Dreams" mythologizes Jackson to point of hyperbole, "Eight Men Out" plays up his illiteracy with too much of a heavy hand. Joe Jackson wasn't stupid, indeed if you read his last major interview before he died, he speaks about the "Black Sox" with great alacrity and clarity. He was not as ignorant as this film would have you believe. One day someone will produce a film about Joe Jackson, that will portray him accurately, but Eight Men Out is not that film.
Although their roles are very minor, Kid Gleason and Ray Schalk are really well played and written. These two went through a very difficult time during the series, and this is well demonstrated. One minor beef is that Nemo Leibold, Shano Collins and other players outside of the conspiracy are never touched upon at all. This is understandable to a degree given the relatively short length of the film, despite the complexity of the subject matter.
The baseball scenes themselves are well done. The bats, balls, gloves and uniforms look like the equipment of that era and the ballparks are successful mock ups for the most part. There are even a couple of nifty athletic displays in the outfield that must have taken several takes to pull off.
Overall, this is my second favorite baseball movie, next to "Bull Durham". Its a little light on some of the details of the conspiracy, but it makes up for it in other areas. It has some great music, some great sets, some solid acting and overall seems genuine and fair to all the major players in the conspiracy.
Eight Men Out isn't perfect, but it isn't as flawed as Roger Ebert would have you believe. If you a fan of baseball in fact, I'd say its mandatory viewing.
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