Director: John Sayles
Last years festival guest John Sayles continues his exploration of classic American social myths, with his long-cherished project on how the 1919 Chicago White Sox baseball team threw the World Series in cahoots with professional gamblers, in what became known as the Black Sox scandal. Eight Men Out stands as a worthy companion piece to Sayles' last film, Motetwan, in its depiction of owner exploitation of the 'little-guy' in post WW1 America.
Based on Eliot Asinof's 1963 best-seller which finally uncovered the full story, this has been Sayles' pet project for many years, initially written in 1976. The script strives for the epic scope the story demands, in telling how, one-by-one , eight of the teams key players agreed to commit the unthinkable betrayal of the national pastime. Motivated primarily by low pay and appatling treatment by the team owner Charles Cominskey, and encouraged by an array of small time hustlers, all with money on the outcome, the 8 White Sox conspired to lose the majority of games in the World Series fixture.
This is the stuff of (American) legend and Sayles' knows it, such as the story of the great Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was the target of the immortal line utterred by a disbelieving kid on the steps of the courthouse as Joe left the trial proceedings: 'Say it isn't so, Joe. Say it isn't so.'
The directors reverential but never sentimental script draws an ensemble piece with no obvious lead role. Working with a low-budget for a period film such as this, Sayles' now customary ability to create an array of credible characters is at its zenith here, spurred on by David Strathairn'sachingly believable Eddie Cicotte, the once crack pitcher nearing the end of his career and looking for a way to support his wife and family when his pitching arm is gone. Watch also for Sayles the actor as the wise-cracking sports journalist Ring Lardner, with Studs Terkel in tow as his colleague Hugh Fullerton, the joumo's who broke the Black Sox scandal.
While at pains to defuse any contemporary (re)readings of the story, Sayles sees the film as documenting the end of an era — the end of America's post-war naievity - with the realisation that even the hallowed World Series can be rigged!