Eight Men OutEven though the Olympics are over I still find myself watching a lot of movies about sports. I didn’t mention it in my quick review yesterday, but Back to School is in a lot of ways a sports movie, about diving. This isn’t really something I’ve set out to do, yet I’ve just watched a movie combining baseball and a courtroom drama for the second time this week. This time, however, it’s an actual movie, instead of an on-the-cheap documentary. Today’s movie is Eight Men Out.
The film is the dramatization of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, told primarily from the players point-of-view. I was, of course, fairly familiar with this story and the characters involved. I’ve seen Ken Burns’ Baseball, and Field of Dreams is one of my favorite movies ever. That said, I was thoroughly entertained and a little bit moved by this film.
Living, as we are, in an era where Major League Baseball players are some of the highest paid “workers” on the planet, it’s easy to forget that this has not always been the case. The film quickly reminds us of the entirely different world that baseball players faced in 1919. There’s a scene early on that contrasts Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey hobnobbing with members of the press in a luxurious owner’s box, while his players are presented with a few bottles of flat champagne as their promised “bonus” for winning the American League pennant. This is just one example of the ways in which the film really establishes the players, (who are, of course, about to undermine the integrity of their game,) as sympathetic figures, and helps remind the viewer of why these men just might be able to be bought.
As the story unfolds, John Cusack’s Buck Weaver emerges as the most interesting character, privy to the initial conversations about throwing Weaver decides not to take any money, refusing to take part in the fix. And yet, fully aware of the fix, he doesn’t make any attempt to blow the whistle either. Cusack’s portrayal of Weaver seemingly attempting to get his teammates to play on-the-level through his sheer enthusiasm is at-times almost comical, if not a little bit tragic. Particularly, later in the film as he increasingly realizes that he will be lumped in with the rest despite his best efforts this tragedy really comes to the forefront.
I really enjoyed this film, but I’m not sure it’s entirely on it’s own merits that I liked it. It’s a powerful story, and it is told well, but for me, the real power of this story is the tragedy of the eight men who were banned from the game, and this film doesn’t really allow us to see that. There’s a powerful epilogue featuring Weaver anonymously sitting in the bleachers watching D.B. Sweeney’s “Shoeless” Joe Jackson playing under an assumed name in some third-rate minor league, this scene cemented this film as one that I was glad to have watched. But still, that only accounts for two of the eight men out. In a lot of ways, this film really just left me wanting to watch Field of Dreams again. That said, I enjoyed the movie, I kept wanting it to become great, and it never did, but it was definitely worth seeinig.