Directed by: Brian Robbins
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane, John Hawkes, Dewayne Warren, Alan Ellis Jr., Julian Griffith
Hardball isn't pretty. It takes place in the ugly, mean streets of inner-city Chicago. Children live in a fatherless world where the only adult males terrorize them. Being out after dark is tantamount to suicide, since your neighbors will beat you to a pulp just to steal your book bag. At home, everyone sits on the floor below window level to avoid being killed by stray bullets. The hero (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix) is a hard-drinking compulsive gambler who specializes in self-destruction. When the loan sharks try to rough him up, he smashes his fist through a car window. "No one can kick my ass better than I can!" he yells at his friend, Ticky (John Hawkes The Perfect Storm(. And then he proceeds to smash in his own head. Not one of your most-likely to succeed types. As I said, Hardball isn't pretty. That's because it's beautiful. In fact, it's one of the best movies I've seen in ages. Hardball isn't perfect. It's flawed (as if the director, Brian Robbins, Ready to Rumble had to delete scenes to make somebody upstairs less nervous about causing a controversy, perhaps?), it's old-fashioned (somewhat predictable but it is a movie, after all), and if you believe that little children never use nasty words, you'd best wear ear plugs. The movie is supposedly based on Hardball: A Season in the Projects by Daniel Coyle, relating the true story of two battling Little League coaches in Chicago's infamous Cabrini Green tenements. According to the New York Daily News, the two men are suing Paramount Pictures over the movie version (written by John Gatins, co-producer of the summer's other baseball flick, Summer Catch.). They ought to grow up. Anybody with a brain should be proud to be associated with this movie. The storyline goes like this: Washed-up white guy is forced to coach an Afro-American Little League team that goes on to great success. Sort of. What the movie is really about, though, is how adult men disappoint children and how children -- amazingly resilient creatures that they are -- bring those men to salvation. It's about women, white (Catholic school teacher Diane Lane, The Perfect Storm) and black, who single-handedly at home and together in their communities, keep trying to save the children, despite the endlessly harsh reality stacked up against them. And yes, it's about baseball, how the love of it and the need to be part of a team can change lives. Reeves is absolutely mesmerizing in this movie, but he couldn't have done it without the support of an incredible cast of unknown actors -- the Little League players. Notable among them is the asthma-afflicted Julian Griffith; the pitcher with a song in his head, Alan Ellis Jr.; and most especially, the runt of the litter, DeWayne Warren. If you want to cry (there was sobbing in the audience the night I was there) and laugh (it's pretty darn funny, despite the surrounding grimness; Reeves and Lane are adorable together, too), if you want to feel bad (but I can't reveal the story without ruining it for you), and then feel terrific (the theme is redemption, remember), if you want to get lost in a movie and think about it for days afterwards, catch Hardball.