You know what you’re getting into when you see a movie based on an ‘extraordinary true story.’ Working with moving source material seems like an advantage, but ultimately puts more pressure on the filmmakers. How do you evoke emotion and create suspense when moviegoers know the ending of the story? Clearly The Perfect Game writer, W. William Winokur, and director, William Dear, have the answer. Now that The Blind Side effect has worn off, it’s time to check out The Perfect Game.
In the poor, dusty town of Monterrey, Mexico, the closest a group of boys can get to experiencing a baseball game, is a ball made of string, a makeshift bat and occasional radio broadcasts of big league games in the states. While seeking refuge from his disapproving father in the yellow wasteland, Angel Macias (Jake T. Austin) finds something that changes his life forever, a real baseball, 108 stitches and all. He shows the treasure to his pals and the boys decide to defy the odds and create a little league team of their own. With the help of a former aspiring MLB coach, Cesar Faz (Clifton Collins Jr.), and some spiritual guidance from Padre Esteban (Cheech Marin), the Monterrey Industrials cross the border and begin their journey to the Little League World Series.
It doesn’t take long to forget that The Perfect Game has true roots. From the moment the film begins, you know the Monterrey Industrials will ultimately achieve the impossible and become the first non-American team to take the Little League title. However, once the players are presented and the course of action established, a connection is made to the individuals on the screen completely independent of the actual people they’re portraying.
But Dear doesn’t let the cast steal the original Industrials’ spotlight completely; he pays homage to the past by incorporating snippets of footage from the kids’ 1957 adventure. In fact, he artfully weaves it into the fresh footage using seamless black-and-white to color fades making it feel as though the historical material is as much a part of the film as anything shot on set. Dear doesn’t have as much success keeping the film flowing in its entirety. The Perfect Game never dulls, but at times is uneven and doesn’t provide adequate segues.
Nevertheless, the pieces in between those choppy transitions are fantastic and instantly patch up the brief distraction. The kids can take most of the credit for the film’s success, particularly Austin. They’re all sweet and nearly impossible to dislike, but Austin has an honesty about him that evokes much more than a coo when a little kid does something great. When Angel’s older brother, and his father’s pride and joy, passes away, Angel becomes more of a redheaded stepchild than daddy’s little boy. This added drama gives Austin the chance to excel far beyond his young co-stars, and he certainly embraces the challenge.
Even with the daddy drama, it’s Angel’s bond with Cesar that’s the most moving connection. From the moment Angel coaxes Cesar out of his siesta to play some ball up until a particularly tender moment before closing out the big game, the compassion they have for one another is undeniably genuine. And the same goes for the rest of the team. After a hefty handful of impressive performances in supporting roles, it was obvious Collins was capable of headlining, but his bond with these kids is far more than typical onscreen chemistry. Collins seems to have really invested himself in his role and in his colleagues. The sole character that’s completely insignificant is Frankie (Emilie de Ravin). This is no fault of de Ravin’s, Frankie is merely underwritten with zero impact on the story, bloating the film with superfluous scenes.
Nearly the entire ride from Monterrey, Mexico to Williamsport, Pennsylvania is packed with everything you’d want from an inspiring sports story. There’s the baseball sequences, some cheesy moments, hardships, inspirational speeches and, of course, triumphs. The pieces aren’t packaged together as neatly as one would hope, but the film easily achieves the intended effect and leaves you with a massive smile on your face. Forget the pay off for the players, moviegoers will win big for opting to see The Perfect Game.
Reviewed By: Perri Nemiroff