Eight Men Out (20th Anniversary Edition) – DVD Review

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Available at Amazon.com

There’s the “Shoeless” Joe Jackson that history records, and the one that has seemingly been embraced by many baseball fans, and like all great myths the reality about Jackson is something few know about and few are willing to embrace. “Shoeless” Joe’s legacy, as it’s grown over the years, obscures the truth about his involvement in the Black Sox scandal of the 1919 World Series in part because the truth will never probably be known. And while whenever the Baseball Hall of Fame convenes his name is thrown out as an example of someone who should be in the Hall but isn’t, ala Pete Rose, Jackson’s legacy is one which will forever be linked to baseball darkest hour.

For those not in the know, the 1919 World Series was intentionally tossed by the Chicago White Sox. The eight players who knew the fix was in, or were actively participated in it, were all banned by baseball shortly thereafter when the truth came out. History tends to forget about Buck Weaver and most of the top members of the team; it’s the case of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson that’s memorable.

Jackson was one of the game’s great outfielders who had a terrific series but his involvement in fixing the series is still debated. At worst he knew the fix was in, doing nothing about it. At worst he was in on it and conspired to violate the integrity of the game. He did confess to taking $5,000 but testified that he also tried his hardest. Eight Men Out is the story of that White Sox team and the fixing of the 1919 World Series.

Following the team from the beginnings of the conspiracy with Arnold Rothstein (Michael Lerner) all the way through to their eventual bans from the game, Eight Men Out stands out amongst baseball films because of its lack of romance for the game. Baseball movies from Field of Dreams to For Love of the Game, and all points between, all have an intrinsic love of the game that transcends the quality of the film it’s attached to. There’s a romantic notion of baseball that is similar to the romantic notion of the mafia presented in The Godfather trilogy. Eight Men Out is a dirty film about a group of athletes conspiring to sell out the integrity of their game for what amounted to less than $20,000.

In the grand scheme of things Jackson, Weaver, Fred McMullen, Eddie Ciccote, Lefty Williams, Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg and Happy Felsch will forever be known for being the poster children for Kenesaw Landis’ brand of harsh justice. It’s one of the great baseball movies in the way that Goodfellas is a complete 180 from the first Godfather film. This is an ugly film, shot beautifully with sports credibility as well because of how good the baseball scenes are. With spot-on scenery of 1919 Chicago, Eight Men Out is a sad reminder about history’s darkest hour.

Presented in a widescreen format with a widescreen format, Eight Men Out has been cleaned up since its first DVD release in both its audio and visual components. The audio takes advantage of the Dolby 5.1 format, as the film’s audio is top notch. There are certain moments, especially during the train sequences early on, where the audio track really pushes any decent system hard.

There’ an aptly named Retrospective about the film, broken up into two parts, that focuses on the film’s entire production. Running close to an hour, it’s a markedly fascinating documentary that delves into every aspect of the film. Before the days where pre-production was involved as it is now, the cast talk about how the crew brought in professional baseball players for almost a month to get them up to speed in terms of their credibility. The piece covers the rather large shooting schedule and work put into making the film, as there were most times three crews working to shoot the film. There is a lot of candor about the picture as everyone discusses the film with a candor that’s nice to hear.

The Story Behind the Movie focuses on the Black Sox scandal and the true story behind it. Eliot Asinof is joined by baseball experts familiar with the scandal to discuss the scandal. Compared to putting a jigsaw puzzle together without a box to mirror it from, it’s ultimately a sad story about a group of men who threw everything they had worked for away for nothing.

DB, the Bat and the 2005 World Series is a tale from D.B Sweeney about how he had sent them a replica of Jackson’s bat as a gag, and it became a good luck charm, for the White Sox 2005 World Series win.

Commentary from Sayles

Eight Men Out is a sad film to watch, especially if you’re a Chicago sports fan, because of the black mark the 1919 White Sox team has left on America’s game of baseball. But it’s a necessary to film to watch. In the pathos of baseball films, it ranks as the antithesis to Bull Durham. Bull Durham was about the positives of the game, its beauty and its characters. This is about the dark side of baseball and its lowest moment.

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MGM presents Eight Men Out. Directed by John Sayles. Starring Charlie Sheen, Michael Rooker, John Cusack, Jace Alexander, D.B Sweeney, Studs Terkel, John Mahoney, David Straitharn, Gordon Clapp. Written by John Sayles. Running time: 120 minutes. Rated PG. Released on DVD: March 18, 2008. Available at Amazon.com