Nelson Mandela, in his first term as the South African President, initiates a unique venture to unite the apartheid-torn land: enlist the national rugby team on a mission to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When the players meet the lawyers for the first time, the head counsel introduced his co-counsels by likening them to famous ballplayers (i.e.: "The Ty Cobb of lawyers"). One of the Sox players asks, "Who is the Babe Ruth?" The head counsel replies "I am". In the time line of the film, however, which is suggested to be between the 1919 and 1920 seasons, Babe Ruth would have just completed his final season with the Boston Red Sox, and also was his first season playing more than 100 games, and he might not have been as famous as he became later. However, the actual indictments of the players (and the meeting with the lawyers) took place after the 1920 season. In 1920, the Babe had by far the greatest offensive season ever, being the first player to 30, 40 and 50 home runs in a season, as well as setting a slugging percentage record that stood for more than 80 years. See more »
This was a much more difficult Joe Jackson story to tell than `Field of Dreams.'
Sports movies are never easy to do and making one that reaches beyond the bounds of sports fans is especially challenging. While `Eight Men Out' may not quite grab the non-sports enthusiast as well as `Field of Dreams,' `Hoosiers' or `A League of Their Own,' (my own nominations for the three best sports-related movies of all-time), it DOES more than hold its own among the top third of the ever-growing list of baseball movies.
This is largely because it is not really a BASEBALL movie. Like the aforementioned films, it is a movie about people who happen to PLAY baseball. Based on the Eliot Asinof novel, the movie is, by and large, historically accurate. It also seems to be fairly even-handed in dishing out guilt. Yes, the players played for skinflint Charles `Old Roman' Comiskey, yes they were easy prey for the gambling element, yes they were lacking in education and common sense yet they are not portrayed as innocent victims, either.
I have been a huge David Strathairn fan ever since `Eight Men Out.' His sensitive portrayal of star pitcher Eddie Cicotte was pivotal to the movie's success. Asinof correctly focused on Cicotte as the pivotal figure in the World Series fix. `Eddie's the key!' more than one character exclaimed. Other players, approached with the idea of throwing the series, reacted with shock when finding out the highly-respected Cicotte was involved. This was certainly no easy choice for Cicotte, a man of some integrity and conscience, but a pitcher nearing the end of his salad days and a man bitter at his mistreatment by Comiskey. Strathairn plays the intelligent, stressed character under the gun as well as any actor of his generation.
The rest of the cast is fine, too, with despicable Chick Gandil (Michael Rooker) and Swede Risberg (Don Harvey) playing the odds and pressuring teammates to go along. James Read is excellent as henpecked southern pitcher Claude `Lefty' Williams, probably the second most respected player on the team. Of course Buck Weaver (John Cusack) is a huge figure, considering the gamblers' pitch, then opting to pass when the money isn't immediately forthcoming.
The movie isn't shy about its version of good guys & bad guys. Gandil, Risberg & Swede's buddy Fred McMullin (Perry Lang) are the villains, while Williams, Weaver, Joe Jackson (D.B. Sweeney) and Manager Kid Gleason (John Mahoney) are victims. Hall of Famer Eddie Collins (Bill Irwin) and no-nonsense catcher (and controversial Hall of Famer) Ray Schalk (Gordon Clapp) are frustrated on-lookers, while Dickie Kerr (Jace Alexander) is the wide-eyed & naïve rookie. All turn in fine work and I find myself loving the taciturn Schalk, the kind of catcher every manager wants. Most interesting is the movie's portrayal of Shoeless Joe, who is interpreted as being mildly retarded, rather than just illiterate.
The baseball scenes are quite realistic, as are the ballpark backdrops. I first saw it the year after visiting Old Comiskey Park (the year before it was torn down) and felt right at home on the movie set even the turnstiles looked authentic.
In closing, I can't honestly say that someone with NO knowledge or interest in baseball would flip over this film. Yet, one doesn't have to be a bleacher bum to enjoy it and not knowing the outcome may actually make it MORE fun for the neophyte! Overall, a fine movie.
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