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Reviewed on 2009-05-15
Received[3]  out of 4 stars
GenreDrama / Sport
Every boy growing up has the dream of becoming a major league baseball player. Miguel "Sugar" Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) from the small town of San Pedro De Macoris in the Dominican Republic knew since age 10 that he had the God-given talent to pitch. Before completing high school, he signed a contract with the fictional Kansas City Knights. The movie opens with Santos on the mound at the Knights' baseball academy at Boca Chica.

Santos gets his big break when assigned to a minor league team in Iowa. He stays with an elderly couple who are avid baseball fans and looks out his bedroom window onto a cornfield. The nickname "Sugar" comes from possessing a sweet knuckle curve and being sweet with the ladies off the field of play.

This sophomore effort from the writing and directing duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck ("Half Nelson") is not your typical sports movie, but rather focuses on the immigrant experience of a foreigner on a work visa to play minor league baseball.

This heartfelt account is brimming with authenticity. It offers a perspective on what it is like to be in a strange country where you are unable to speak the language.

Besides the enormous pressure to succeed on the field, these Latino ballplayers have an equally rough transition just acclimating themselves to the culture and attempting to fit in socially. This melodrama will raise awareness of how these young kids are commercially exploited. It will also provide a newfound respect and admiration toward those players who have achieved success in our national pastime.

Sports fans will be taken out of their comfort zone with this emotionally sensitive approach and leisurely art house pacing. The formulaic feel-good ending is replaced by a more ambiguous real-life conclusion.

To ensure accuracy, the filmmakers brought to the project 1990 World Series MVP Jose Rijo (a native Dominican) of the Cincinnati Reds to serve as both principal adviser and to appear in the film.

The cast is made up of former ballplayers rather than actors to elevate the level of realism for the game situations and practice regimens. Soto is likeable and very natural in the lead role.

The splendid cinematography captures the Midwestern flavor of Iowa as well as the look and feel of minor league baseball. The KC insignia on the caps and jerseys will put a lump in the throat of devoted Royals fans.

The Dominican Republic has become the primary source of foreign baseball talent with more than 1,700 Dominican players under contract, including 129 in the major leagues and 1.635 in the minors. Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez head a list of recognizable Dominican superstars.

The movie avoids mentioning the high incident of steroid use among Dominican ballplayers as well as the many cases of identity fraud and age falsification. The dialogue is partially in Spanish with short, easy-to-read English subtitles. Now playing exclusively at the Tivoli and AMC Studio 30.

Review By:
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"


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