Hardball


Directed by: Brian Robbins
Written by:John Gatins
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane, John Hawkes, Bryan Hearne, Julian Griffith
Released: June 13, 2002
Grade: B

Inspired by actual events and based on the novel by Daniel Coyle, Hardball is the kind of rags-to-riches story that you know studios love to make and you know people will love to see.  Keanu Reeves is Conor O’Neill, a jobless loser who owes $12,000 is gambling debts.  With bookies hunting him down, Conor desperately turns to well-off friend and solicitor Jimmy Fleming to bail him out of trouble.  Jimmy isn’t going to just hand over a blank cheque and wants something in return.  He’s been asked by his firm to coach a pathetic baseball team and so asks Conor to do it for $500 a week.

Conor unenthusiastically shows up for the first day of practice to meet his team.  They’re all from poverty stricken backgrounds and live in substandard housing on the outskirts of Chicago.  The training session doesn’t go well with the team showing their obvious lack of skill.  To make matters worse, Conor gets a visit from the league president warning him that if he can’t find a nine man team, the team will be kicked out.

To get two additional players, Conor goes to the local school and introduces himself to teacher Elizabeth Wilkes (Lane) who his instantly develops an attraction to.  Ms Wilkes promises to let more of her students play if Conor will help them prioritise their homework.  So, Conor begins the job of transforming his team from a team of jokes into a team of champions.  Not only is he successful, but he reaches a defined understanding of his own life and vows to get himself back on track.

Keanu Reeves would be one of the most hot-cold actors in the business.  He draws consistent criticism for many weak performances which have arisen because of bad casting.  Yet, when he finds a role that does suit, he rises to the occasion and reaffirms our faith in his ability.  Hardball best fits the later description.  Reeves is on-song and has the rough personality that matches that of Conor O’Neill.  Surprisingly, the talented Diane Lane doesn’t feature and is very much secondary to Conor’s and the kids’ stories.

You always know where a film like Hardball is heading and there’s only so much of it you can take.  As I’ve reiterated before, sport is most exciting when it is unpredictable.  Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, the underdog steals the show to heighten your interest.  The problem on screen is that sport movies usually are predictable and don’t contain the same level of excitement.  Honestly though, this is a feel good flick and nothing more should be expected.  There’s room for improvement but at least its heart is in the right place.