Eight Men Out

Draft Review by Dean Duncan Jun 9, 2015

This is writer/director/American treasure John Sayles’ fine take on the 1919 White Sox/Black Sox scandal; it starts w’ an exhilarating display of narrative economy & skill, a virtuosic opening sequence in which players & press & owners are introduced all of their complex & contradictory interrelationships: there’s the joy of athletic endeavour, pressed by exploiters, & the exploitative impulse, causing joyful athleticism to devolve, quite understandably really, into a willingness to compromise; this compromise—the Cusack character, talking w’ those kids—is not so much seen as a betrayal, but the near inevitable result of a dispiriting disadvantage which would after all last well into the 1960’s;

Sayles has a large cast of important characters, & it’s impressive how they’re so sharply sketched & memorably developed, & so efficiently, such that they all feel full even though we don’t hardly see much of them;

There’s another multi-location, multi-character montage later on, a hotel sequence w’ the ball players & the gamblers in tense negotiation, w’ management & the League in the vicinity, trying to get to the bottom of it all—reminded me of Brian de Palma, actually, which is to say really impressively adept, w’ the glad difference that Sayles does it for the film, & for his characters & ideas, & never call attention to himself—

(Should we be fair? De Palma was (is) an exhibitionist in a number of ways, but it’s also true that he often calls attention to the cinema, which he loves, & which can do the following amazing & joyful things, as much as he desires our attention for his own sake…)

And the Press? Sayles himself plays Ring Lardner, the protégé of Hugh Fullerton, who was the journalist that broke the story; Fullerton is played by the beloved writer & anthologist Studs Terkel, & his appearance is both affectionate expression & homage; here journalism is not portrayed idealistically, or naively, even if you could say that Capital is probably drawn rather crudely, but I think it is used symbolically, in order to carry a burden, or an urgent message:

This message is similar to what Woody Allen was saying at the time, esp. in those remarkable films of ’84, ’85, ’86 & ’87; Allen probably got the notion, at least in part, from Ingmar Bergman (like 1975!); it is that art, which might also be conscientious reporting, or proper historiographical method, is the only reliable thing for making sense out of social chaos & moral erosion; it’s a thesis reinforced by the fact that these two characters, this double chorus serves to guide the viewer, seems to nearly have an omniscient view, & clearly stands above all the corruptions and expediencies that blow the other characters every which way; it’s also a thesis reinforced by the fact that Sayles almost certainly surpasses both Bergman & Allen in his firm, uncompromising sense of the ideological issues, & their implication;

Critique then, even outright condemnation, & yet w’ hope remaining; that is to say, just the right balance for a film that wants to entertain, & do it substantially …