Shoeless Joe's Black and White Sox
"Eight Men Out" is an entertaining an interesting movie covering the true story of the infamous Black Sox scandal when then Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to intentionally throw the 1919 World Series, a series they were odds on favourites to win. It manages to bring to life the era, the facts and the old magical feel of baseball so effectively that when things start to feel a little complex and convoluted, and the betting system certainly has that feel of being both, "Eight Men Out" carries you on a wave of nostalgic watch ability. It's by no means perfect; at times it feels like you need to know the infamous story surrounding the infamous Black Sox scandal to fully understand the comings and goings but it is certainly entertaining.
There is something oldie Hollywood about how "Eight Men Out" starts, there's a double narrative going on as we are introduced to each of the main characters partly through the owner of the White Sox discussing the players and the 1919 World series with the press and then through an actual warm up session/game. It's effectively done so that every single important character from George 'Buck' Weaver through to Joseph 'Shoeless Joe' Jackson is introduced to us with it feeling all so natural, despite being a manufactured way of going about things. But although nicely done some of the magic of this opening is lost unless you already know the history, so when we get introduced to 'Shoeless Joe' Jackson there is something really magical as if a legend has been brought back to life on the screen, but unless you know who 'Shoeless Joe' was then that magic is lost.
"Eight Men Out" continues to impress having introduced us to all the main players as it then delivers motive for the players to be open to bribes and then spins a web of complexity as to how those shady men behind the scenes set up the biggest betting scandal of all time. This is where "Eight Men Out" not so much struggles but becomes almost convoluted as to how the betting was done so that it didn't immediately raise suspicion. It's almost impossible to understand if you are not paying 100% attention to it and even then makes you scratch your head a bit. But then it is also fascinating, such as they way they incorporated a signal into the game so that those behind the scandal would know that the players were going to throw the game.
Talking of which the actual games and baseball action is equally brilliant with some realistic baseball scenes. Director John Sayles really captures the whole feeling of baseball from a bygone era when it was full of magic and legendary players. But it is the actual shots of the baseball games themselves which really wow you, not in the big show piece or the big hitters, but in the way he captures the action of someone sliding into a base, the showman ball catching and so much more. It's what makes baseball such a brilliant game and Sayles delivers all of this with out it overshadowing the actual story.
If I have one criticism is that because the story of the Black Sox Scandal is so well known, the dramatization ends up just as a re-enactment of the scandal, focusing strongly on the character of Buck Weaver who continued to protest his innocence after being banned from the professional game. It doesn't feel like it brings anymore to the story, such as that years after the scandal facts arose bringing in to doubt 'Shoeless Joe's' participation in the match fixing. As such it feels like something is missing, stopping it from being a really stunning and revealing look into the Black Sox Scandal.
What does help matters is that the casting of "Eight Men Out" is spectacular from the smaller parts such as John Mahoney as the White Sox coach William 'Kid' Gleason and even director John Sayles himself as sports writer Ring Lardner through to the more pivotal characters such as D.B. Sweeny as 'Shoeless Joe', David Strathairn as pitcher Eddie Cicotte and of course John Cusack as George 'Buck' Weaver. Not a single actor puts in a bad performance with Cusack playing the honest baseball player so brilliantly that you do believe he has the weight of the world on his shoulders as he deals with the knowledge of knowing about the betting scam whilst not participating.
What is quite staggering is the number of stars which appear in "Eight Men Out" which as well as those already mentioned also has the likes of Christopher Lloyd, Charlie Sheen, Michael Rooker, Don Harvey and Kevin Tighe all of which help recreate an authenticity to the whole movie.
What this all boils down to is that "Eight Men Out" is an extremely good movie. It manages to deliver an effective dramatization of one of the biggest match fixing scandals of all time whilst making it entertaining with some nice action scenes and a feel of authenticity when recreating there. It does become a little convoluted as the betting takes place but it is also fascinating.
Tags: Baseball Movies