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Sayles Makes Black Sox Scandal a Whole New Ballgame


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.

Sayles carefully examines the varied motivations behind the players' individual actions. Most of all, "Eight Men Out" is about the love of the game and the betrayal of honest men coming to maturity in a deceptively juvenile environment.

Perfect in its depiction of the period and unfaltering in its complex storytelling, "Eight Men Out" has a healthy respect for both the methodology and the reality of baseball and finds chords of deep sadness in both.

"Eight Men Out" (1988), written and directed by John Sayles. 120 minutes. Rated PG.

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