An aimless young man who is scalping tickets, gambling and drinking, agrees to coach a Little League team from the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago as a condition of getting a loan from a friend.
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Yvonne de la Vega,
Bright, well-educated, handsome Conor O'Neill's promising future was wrecked by his gambling addiction, which dragged him into heavy drinking and petty crime, but worst of all, the stifling grip of loan-shark bookies. Desperate for a loan, he accepts to stand in for lawyer friend Jimmy Fleming as coach of a Chicago black 'projects' ghetto Little League baseball team. His sense of pride, becoming the boys' sole idol, and competition, plus their attractive teacher, motivate Conor. But the crushing loan problem rather requires leaving town. Written by
Rough head white guy coaches little black kids in Chicago baseball. Very effectively made with some tough bits that are well above average. 4 Flys Out Of Five
In spite of its rather predictable set up Hardball is remarkably effective. It's a terrific example of a mainstream film that squeezes itself sufficiently out of the comfort zone to be both thought provoking and moving without too often lapsing into the triteness we see so often.
Hardball is yet another genre movie about a desperate white guy (Keanu Reeves) forced into coaching a children's sporting team from a rough black neighbourhood. Does he coach a mob of losers to victory? Does he mature while he does the job? Do the children gain valuable insights from their new friend? Does a love interest hover for our desperado coach?
The first third of Hardball shows us Conor O'Neill (Keanu Reeves) in the throws of digging an even deeper hole for himself with bad bets. He's literally on the run from his creditors and is frantic to get one big win to get the ghouls off his back.
We've seen that thousands of times before on T.V. and film but Hardball worked the trick beautifully. A baseball bat smashing a hole in a wall, where a head was a few moments before, can be extraordinarily effective cinema if done right. I was sold. O'Neill's gambling mate Ticky, played by character actor John Hawkes, has a bit of Steve Buscemi look about him and that has to be a recommendation.
Then we meet the children. The film is set in the notorious Cabrini-Green area of Chicago, a high rise low income housing area which is being progressively torn down. Cabrini-Green is now under redevolopment in what's a bold mixed income experiment, incorporating low/no-income citizens into what an area that was always surrounded by prime real estate.
The children are tough talking 13 year olds, but we're soon shown that they're very frightened. Hardball shows their world as being one where they are rightfully scared to be out after dark. One where people sit on the floor in their high rise for fear of bullets coming in through the windows. Again it was very effective film making.
The baseball is little league stuff in every sense of the word. The coach doesn't seem to know much about baseball and his charges, strangely, instantly improve their game on his arrival. There's the designated tear jerking triumphs and I'm sufficiently chump enough to have been sold on that too!
The token woman is provided by Diane Lane and she's O.K. but that whole plot line could and probably should have been left out. But Hardball was strong cinematic fare and well worth a look.
4 Sporting Flys Out Of Five
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