Reviewed by: Douglas Downs
|Featuring:||Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane, Michael Jordan, D B Sweeney, John Hawkes|
|Producer:||Michael Tollin, Mike Tollin, Tina Nides, Sean Daniels|
The word “hardball” has long been associated with the word “tough”. The idea that life is coming at you fast and it is not going to be easy. “Hardball” is a movie that tries to be tough. The inner-city projects of Chicago are a tough world. I have worked in those projects. I have also worked in the inner cities of D.C. and Cleveland. It is a difficult world for our nation’s children. As a substitute teacher in one inner-city school system, I had children as young as 7 threaten to find a 9mm and blow me away. I’ve experienced lock-downs where the teachers have to lock their classroom doors and keep the students quite. This was all because an enraged adult was on campus with a weapon.
These children are starving for positive role models and acceptance. They live in constant fear of gangs. Mothers live with the dread that their babies will become a part of the darkness (created by the violent activity of the gangs). The vast majority of these kids go through life fatherless. “Hardball” will give you a peek into this very-real world.
I’m still torn by my response to this film. It is not a feel-good movie like “Remember the Titans”. The faces of the children reminded me of my visits to their world. I liked the idea behind the “Hardball” story, but I did not care for some of the plot points. Let me break it down for you.
My first warning is to stress that this is not a kid’s movie! Originally rated “R” and trimmed slightly to get its “PG-13” rating, don’t be fooled by any film trailers. Directors, producers, and studios are satisfied with this process of editing. Why? DVD. They can add the material back in on the DVD version and still keep the final rating. The fine print just says, “Some material on this film has not been rated”. A bogus disclaimer because the deleted material was rated. But even though this is not a children’s movie, the acting by children is outstanding! They truly steal the show. Their language and attitude is very offensive, but it is also very realistic. Most of the inner-city children that I have met do talk trash. They want to appear tough and that is the language of their world.
Second, the story is about a down-on-his-luck compulsive gambler named Conor O'Neill (Keanu Reeves). His debts to bookies and loan sharks have become life threatening. Conor frequently drinks and is always lighting up a cigarette (free advertising for the tobacco industry). He is so desperate for money that he takes a job from a friend in a bank—a job to coach a little league team called the Kekambas from the Cabrini Green housing projects. The pay is $500 dollars. It doesn’t take much of a mathematician to realize this amount won’t even make a dent in Conor’s debt. In fact, John Gatins’ (“Summer Catch”) screenplay has a lot of holes in it. I’m not sure how close it is to Daniel Coyne’s novel, but I do know there are several other loopholes in this film. I’m not a scene spoiler, but let’s just say Conor does get a chance to redeem himself.
The Kekambas are a reinvention of the Bad News Bears. They are anything but a team and struggle with all the fundamentals. That all changes for the team when they go out for pizza (I wish I had known that when I coached T-Ball). The desire to play baseball does provide a motivation for the team to read. This is where Coach Conor meets Elizabeth Wilkes (Diane Lane), the team’s teacher. She is the love interest for our down-and-out hero. This part of the story is not over done.
The overall message of the film is positive. The team’s coach does manage to find redemption before the end (of course). I also liked the work behind the camera when the team attends a Cubs game.
The language as stated is very foul. There is a sort of theme song the team rallies behind that talks about a man saying he wants a woman and she should be having his baby, Baby.
The presence of gangs is fearful. I personally struggled with the possibility that our inner-city problems may have been exploited in this film. Yes, the story did touch me and I would feel better if the profits from the film were going back to Chicago’s projects.
Can I recommend this film? The script had its weaknesses, the story contained many other negative elements, but the chance for our teens to witness inner-city life can be used for good. Perhaps an inner-city project for teen youth groups can be one of the unforeseen positive impacts of “Hardball”.
I wouldn’t go along by saying this is a clean movie because there is a lot of language. Too many to count. And yes, folks, there is an f-word in this movie. But the movie is very real and touching and I recommend it to adults who are looking for a moving movie to go see.
[Average / 3½]
—Matt, age 21