Eight Men Out

Another great, measured slice of Americana from John Sayles, here adapting Eliot Asinof’s book about the 1919 Black Sox scandal. The movie has been unfairly criticized for not being clear enough about the facts, for assuming the audience knows more than it does. Well, I know nothing about baseball, yet Sayles’ key theme — how does the American dream of prosperity and individualism hold up under the corruption of capitalism? — comes through loud and clear. The more cynical players on the Chicago White Sox, dissatisfied with their miserly salaries, can’t resist the temptation to throw the World Series. Sayles presents their decision as a regrettable but humanly understandable response to being treated like wage slaves. At the same time, he shows other players who mourn what the game has become: idealistic John Cusack, who refuses to do less than his best; aging David Strathairn, whose pain at throwing intentionally bad pitches is obvious; D.B. Sweeney, whose Shoeless Joe Jackson is naive and illiterate. Like the best sports movies, this is only marginally about the sport; its final subject is the genesis of 20th-century American disillusionment. A great cast: Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Edson, Charlie Sheen, Michael Rooker, John Mahoney, Kevin Tighe (one of Sayles’ favorite villains), Gordon Clapp, Maggie Renzi, Perry Lang, Studs Terkel, Bill Irwin, and Sayles himself as the acerbic Ring Lardner.

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