Writer/director John Sayles' fascinating and melancholic "Eight Men Out" begins with an excited boy running down a Norman Rockwell-perfect Chicago street, yelling to his friends: "We're going to see the Sox!"
The immediately resonant thrill of this moment establishes "Eight Men Out" as a baseball movie both atmospheric and emotionally grounded. Taking as its subject the notorious Black Sox scandal of 1919, the film (based on Eliot Asinov's excellent book) is at once a crime story, a buddy movie, a social commentary and a paean to the past, told without a shred of nostalgia.
The major league cast boasts an assortment of fine character actors from Christopher Lloyd as the ambitious former pitcher who initiates the scheme, to the always reliable John Mahoney as Kid Gleason, the stunned Sox manager who can't believe the greatest ballclub he's ever seen would throw the World Series for a gambler's payoff.
The cast also includes John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, James Read, David Strathairn, Studs Terkel and Sayles himself. To a man, they deliver emotional performances with the enthusiasm of kids on a sandlot.