Friday, April 17, 2009

Film review: Sugar

A film to Start the Baseball Season: Surplus Value on the Baseball Diamond

by Eric Green

Here is a non-Hollywood sports film, in this case a baseball film, that exposes the human side of professional sports, human trafficking. In this case it is the male youth of the Dominican Republic and their farm system of baseball players. This is truly a "farms system".

Strong phrase, "Human Trafficking" but that is the reality of the baseball farm system that produces a high volume of potential young Dominican ball players and eventually boils them down to a very few. The very few make it into the tiered baseball professional leagues: the minor leagues of Class A Class AA and Class AAA. The very few make it into the Major Leagues.

The Writer and Directors of this classic film are: Ana Boden and Ryan Fleck. They also wrote and directed the Indy film success; "Half Nelson" in 2006.

In this film, they follow the fictionalized career of Miguel "Sugar" Santos, played exquisitely by Algenis Perez Soto who was also born in the Dominican Republic. You get to meet his full family and the extreme poverty that his family and community endure. Yes, these players represent their way out of poverty.

They follow Sugar to the baseball training camp in the US and then to his first Class A baseball assignment in Kansas. A farming family with deep religious beliefs boards him.

This the tale of "Two Fish out of Water:" The farmer's family and the baseball players.

While in this baseball Class A minor team Santos meets other Latin American players from Venezuela, Panama and few others.

But, to Boden and Fleck credit, they show how all of the players, coaches and people associated with this baseball machine are exploited. The interplay between all of them is very well handled.

True, this is a not gladiator facing a cruel death; or, being severely injured for life as in football. Here the sore pitching arm could mean the end of the lines. A few make it to the top where the big bucks are doled out, but VERY FEW.

Meanwhile, if you don't make it is back to your homeland or to The Bronx New York. This is true capitalist exploitation. A comparison with Cuban baseball players would have been appropriate.

The film has been compared to the Hollywood baseball classic Bull Durham. That film was far more melodramatic. This film is very subtle and far more penetrating.

The final scene on the Bronx, NY baseball diamond of semi-professionals players, you get to meet players who played for many major league teams, but now relics far before their time. This, for baseball fans and followers, was the most poignant and devastating part of the film.