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This is probably the best film to be completely ignored by every major award in film in the last 25 years. For all that its about baseball players, it is NOT a baseball movie. The Black Sox scandal and its effect on baseball transcended baseball. The ensemble cast does a marvelous job, particularly Straithairn and Sweeney, who plays "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, one of the more tragic figures of the whole mess. In spite of taking money to throw the Series, Jackson went out and batted .375 for the Series. The Chicago payers in on the payoff (and one poor soul who didn't go along, but was approached) were banned from baseball for life. No less an authority than Ted Williams believes Jackson should be in the Hall of Fame. But I digress. The film goes into the motivations of the players, who were playing for a pittance and had no say over where they played. Thus they were perfect targets for the fix in the first place. Excellent and gripping film about human reactions to stress and temptation. Most recommended.
Although I generally agree with Roger Ebert's reviews, I just can't understand how he was annoyed enough with this movie to give it a measly two stars. He claims that there wasn't enough exposition. I found everything explained satisfactorily, even for the non-fan or baseball history buff. And it is period-piece film-making at its finest. I cannot imagine a better telling of this story. And the baseball action is excellent. One factual error, though: Bucky Weaver (John Cusack) would never mention Babe Ruth as better (or even comparable) to Cobb, Speaker and Wheat in 1919 or 1920. It shocks me that Sayles kept that line. USA Today heralded "Eight Men Out" as the greatest baseball movie ever, and though there is some fine company, I find it hard to disagree.
John Sayles is always, always honest with his audiences, never resorting to
cheap tricks or unwarranted sentiment; and this period drama about the
"Black Sox" scandal of 1919 may be his finest hour. Incredibly handsome and
lavish-looking for a low-budget indie, it's a meticulous re-creation of the
first huge scandal in American professional sports, and the beginning of the
loss of innocence in pro baseball (and American popular culture by
extension). If that makes it sound a bit dry, let it be said that the
characterizations are vivid, the characters multilayered, the costumes
gorgeous, and the staging of the baseball games unusually convincing. (Ever
notice how movie stars can't really fake pro-athlete moves? Watch John
Cusack charge an outfield fly, or Charlie Sheen slide into third--they had
me convinced.) In a uniformly excellent cast, David Strathairn's morally
tortured star pitcher is especially impressive, as is John Mahoney's
manager, alternately loving and despising his players, his eroding trust
etched on his expressive face. And what a wonderful touch having Studs
Terkel play a cynical sportswriter: He's the essence of Chicago
Some of the facts of the story are necessarily simplified or omitted to keep the movie under two hours, but there's not a moment of dishonesty or "Field of Dreams"-type goo. By the time the kid is looking Joe Jackson in the eye and pleading, "Say it ain't so," you'll probably be sniffling.
A high-water mark in the career of a great, versatile, underappreciated moviemaker.
This was a much more difficult Joe Jackson story to tell than `Field of
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.
When people talk about their favorite baseball movies, you always hear the same titles being tossed around. Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and of course, these are terrific movies. But I don't think any one movie has so perfectly caputured the game, the public's love and obsession with it, and how fragile and vulnerable the men whos play it can be. John Sayles movie, from Eliot Asinof's impeccably researched book, so perfectly caputres America in 1919, and paints the Black Sox scandal as a tragedy, whereby men capable of great things are brought down to the level of theives and gangsters by something as simple as greed, and as awful as revenge. What sets this movie apart, to me, is the cast. There is an athleticism about this cast. Charlie Sheen had a scholarship to play ball at Kansas State, and is well known for his passion for baseball. D.B. Sweeney, who is simply remarkable as Shoeless Joe Jackson, the illiterate hitting machine, whose tragedy also spawned the novel Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, which served as the source for Field of Dreams, played minor league ball before a motorcycle accident ended his career. They look and play like ballplayers. In far too many films there is something horribly fake about the baseball aspect. Some capture baseball scenes perfectly, and simply haven't the emotional, real life depth that a movie needs, while others capture plenty on the emotional side but fall short in terms of the realism on the field. This movie is a rare GEM that captures both so well. The acting is terrific. Sweeny, as said, does a fantastic job, as do John Mahoney as the team's manager, and the terrific character player Michael Rooker (who oddly is only good in movies where he isn't highly billed...for example, don't see Jean Claude Van Damme and Michael Rooker in Replicant...) as Chick Gandil, the first baseman whose shady connections initiate the whole gambling scenario. But the standout performance has to be John Cusack as third-baseman Buck Weaver. His being drawn into the scandal's backlash is by far the most devastating part of this film, as he is the moral center of the film, torn between his love of his teammates, and his loyalty to the integrity of a game he loves, and never got over the loss of. Simply Remarkable.
This was a well-done account of the famous 1919 Black Sox scandal in
Major League baseball many years ago. The movie features an excellent
cast and does a nice job of re-creating the era. The music of period is
effectively used here, too, as are the interior and exterior of the
The most memorable players seemed to be pitcher Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn) and infielder Buck Weaver (John Cusack). Cicotte, being the ace pitcher on the staff, was the key player involved in fixing the 1919 World Series and Weaver stood out because he was made to look as a totally-innocent player who got unfairly blackballed from pro baseball. At least this is according to John Sayles, who directed the film. Sayles also shows "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, the most famous player of that scandal, to be just a naive, kind of dumb guy who didn't know what was going on. (However, history records Jackson making an unusual number of throwing errors in the field, which makes him suspect.)
Sayles also goes out of his way to make Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey as a notorious tightwad who invited this sort of thing (players taking bribes) by grossly underpaying his players. They also make a point of showing him screwing Cicotte out of a big bonus. The filmmakers almost make the crooks into the good guys! Gosh, Hollywood would never do that! So, as you can see, so don't take this story as "gospel." I'm sure some of it is very true, but how much?
The baseball scenes are realistic in the field but aren't all that credible pitching and hitting. Note: Sayles has an acting role in here as does real-life sportswriter Studs Terkel, who isn't a bad actor! Michael Lerner, Charlie Sheen, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Rooker, Clifton James all add to this deep cast.
I especially enjoyed Studs Terkel and John Sayles as the two
sportswriters, Fullerton and Lardner. They're very droll. They act as a
kind of Greek chorus, making cynical wisecracks, keeping the audience
clued in on what's supposed to be going on. As the White Sox play out
yet another crooked game, Sayles said to Terkel, "Nothing but fast
balls." "Nice, sloow ones," adds Terkel. It gets better. Terkel writes
a column for the Chicago paper accusing gamblers of corrupting the game
of baseball and Sayles is reading it aloud. "Writers are tainting the
game," or something, says Sayles. "Keep reading," says Terkel. "The
game would be better off without the long-nosed, thick-lipped Eastern
element preying on our boys in the field." Terkels smiles around his
cigar and says, "Makes you proud to be a sportswriter, doesn't it?"
The rest of the movie is pretty good too, although I sometimes get the characters and their motives a little mixed up. The baseball scenes are very well done. I say this, being no big fan of the sport myself. Charlie Sheen (a true aficionado) looks like he's heaving a heavy bat as he clunks out a hit, not a rubber prop. I admired too the way the series games swung back and forth as the players on the take tried to figure out if they were playing for the money or for themselves. It's tough to throw a game because part of one's self always wants to do what one does best -- in this case, play baseball well. The German ethologists call it "Funktionslust." In the end, despite some indecision, they do however lose.
The movie isn't kind to the gamblers or to the owners. Comisky was incredibly cheap and greedy. The script gives this as one of the reasons why the players agreed to throw the game. As Strathairn says when someone offers him a part payment, "I don't care about the money." He's throwing the games to foul up Comisky who has just denied him a promised bonus because Strathairn, playing the pitcher Cicotte, has only played 29 games instead of the 30 they'd agreed upon. Comisky has made him sit on the bench for the last few games so he wouldn't cross the bonus threshold. (Question: Given that Comisky cheated Cicotte of the contracted bonus, was Cicotte morally justified in throwing the games?)
The movie isn't nice to the gamblers either. Not only don't they pay off but they treat the players with contempt. Arnold Rothstein ("A.R.") treats EVERYBODY rudely. He never says hello when he enters a room, never says good-bye when leaving, and never smiles.
I kind of liked this. Sayles may not be a master but his films are always highly individualized. I cannot visualize him directing "Die Hard With A Sardonic Grin."
Everything's right in this period piece on baseball's darkest moment. Film eschews standard Hollywood overkill and presents things as they actually happened [you won't see Shoeless Joe talking like a Harvard grad in this one]; also avoids taking sides between greedy players and greedy owner, and lets you decide who screwed who. Fantastic atmosphere. Cusack as Buck Weaver, on the fringes of the scandal, and David Strathairn, as ace pitcher Eddie Cicotte, lead a cast which is solid through the whole lineup.
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.
We were a young,innocent nation in 1919,though we did have our troubles. Luckily,we had a relatively new game of baseball to take us away from those troubles.Surely,nothing bad could happen to such a great game,or so we thought.It seems that eight players took bribes to deliberately lose the 1919 World Series,and we did not take it very well.How could they?How could they betray our trust and our fanship this way? This film,which incidentally never has gotten the full credit it has deserved over the years,brilliantly brings to life this scandal which gave our nation one big black eye.It is a must see for any true fan of baseball. Baseball indeed has a mostly colorful history,but there was a time when that color was black.Over the years,the wounds have healed,but the scars remain.A truly brilliant and underrated film.
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