In one of his more mainstream efforts, indie darling John Sayles tackles the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal when eight (or six, depending on who you believe) members of the Chicago White Sox agreed to throw the World Series for financial gain. It’s one of the major events in the history of the sport and the defining moment when sports first lost their innocence — or at least the first brush with losing the appearance of innocence. It makes for a good story, albeit one of perhaps greater interest to baseball enthusiasts than those who can’t name a baseball player less famous than Babe Ruth. And that’s one of the problems with Sayles’ approach to the film: He presumes the viewer knows an awful lot and it doesn’t help that the movie is crowded with characters who aren’t always easy to identify.
More interesting is the fact that Sayles reads the event in typically Saylesian “capital versus labor” terms — asserting the idea that the corruption was the direct result of team owner Charles Comiskey’s (Clifton James) refusal to pay his players decent wages. It’s not an unreasonable approach, but it’s about as subtle as the mock “message” movie depicting capital and labor destroying each other that’s shown in opening sequence of Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels. Plus, it’s so much the focus that a lot of the inherent drama gets lost in the shuffle. Strong performances help — especially from David Strathairn — but it’s not the great American sports drama it could have been.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke