November 24, 2015

Blu-Ray Review: EIGHT MEN OUT

No, Charlie Sheen isn't the star.
Not even close, in fact.
Starring John Cusack, Clifton James, David Strathairn, Christopher Lloyd, Charlie Sheen, Clifton James, D.B. Sweeney, John Mahoney, Michael Rooker, Michael Lerner. Directed by John Sayles. (1988, 117 min).

"Don't know much about history;
Don't know much about base-ball-o-gy..."
-Sam Cooke...sort of

I hate to admit this, but prior to viewing Eight Men Out, everything I knew about the 1919 Black Sox Scandal (several Chicago White Sox players took payoffs to lose the World Series) came from Field of Dreams. That's probably because I never really liked baseball, but absolutely love movies about baseball. Put a game on TV and I'll be sawing logs by the third inning. Present it on the big screen with sweeping music, expertly-choreographed action and characters whose fates depend on the outcome of a single climactic, I'm hooked every time. There's simply something inherently cinematic about it.

But Eight Men Out isn't one of those inspirational, triumph-of-the-underdog, sports-as-a-metaphor movies. It turns out Shoeless Joe Jackson was not-so-much a crucified major league martyr as an illiterate rube who just happened to be a great ballplayer. And he isn't even central to the story, which focuses mostly on Buck Weaver (John Cusack), who didn't take a payoff and played his best throughout the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. As for those who did...some display a certain level of greed, but we are made empathetic to their motivation: White Sox owner Charles Comiskey (Clifton James) is depicted as a frugal miser with little regard for his players' well being off the field. Especially sympathetic is David Strathairn as pitcher Eddie Cicotte, financially forced to throw the games after being denied a promised bonus which would have paid for his children's college. This was an era long before pro athletes were set-for-life simply by signing a contract.

"I know you are, but what am I?"

I'm no expert in baseball history, but the events depicted in Eight Men Out seem pretty authentic, presenting the events as they happened without too much dramatic embellishment. As such, it's a fascinating depiction of what's arguably the very first professional sports scandal, a revealing behind-the-headlines look at the greed involved both on and off the field, as well as the suggestion that the mafia played a large part in fixing the 1919 World Series.

Unlike such aesthetically similar baseball films which transcended their genres to appeal to the masses, such as The Natural or Field of Dreams, it helps to be a fan of the game's history itself, since Eight Men Out aims more for accuracy than a feel-good vibe. In that respect, I feel like I've been both educated and entertained.

  • Retrospective Documentary - an extensive look back at all aspects of the making of the film (primarily featuring director John Sayles, as well as a few of the supporting actors).
  • Audio Commentary by Sayles
  • Trailer

No comments: