Tuesday, September 8, 2009

DVD Views: Sugar

Sugar *** ½
Directed By: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck.
Written By: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck.
Starring: Algenis Perez Soto (Miguel 'Sugar' Santos), Rayniel Rufino (Jorge Ramirez), Andre Holland (Johnson), Ann Whitney (Helen Higgins), Ellary Porterfield (Anne Higgins), Jaime Tirelli (Osvaldo), Jose Rijo (Alvarez), Michael Gaston (Stu Sutton), Alina Vargas (Reyna), Richard Bull (Earl Higgins), Kelvin Leonardo Garcia (Salvador), Joendy Pena Brown (Marcos).

Sugar is a completely different kind of sports movie. There is no big game at any point during the movie that rests on the play of the underdog who becomes a hero in the films final frames. It is the story of a poor kid who tries to make it big in the majors, but it tells a story that is much more grounded in realism than most of the sports movie. This is not a story about triumph, but one of failure.

Miguel “Sugar” Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) is a poor kid from the Domincan Republic. He has a good pitching arm and since he was 18 he has been signed by the Kansas City Royals farm system, and has been working for two years to try and get sent to America, where he can make real money. His entire family depends on him for financial support, and going to America means more money and more opportunity. This year, he finally makes it, and is sent to Single A ball in Bridgetown, Iowa. He may as well be sent to Mars.

Miguel struggles to fit in at first, but soon settles in with the other players from the Dominican. His pitching also struggles for a while, then settles in and he becomes a star, and then he loses it again. The elderly couple who is assigned to stay with are nice to him, their daughter maybe interested in him, but Miguel cannot keep everything from falling apart. The pressure is just too much for him.

Newcomer Algenis Perez Soto is wonderful as Miguel. He gives a completely natural and unaffected performance, going from cocky young stud in the Dominican, to a man struggling with his confidence, to someone who has given up, to someone who is reborn with a new sense of purpose by the end of the film.

The film was written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the filmmakers behind the excellent Half Nelson from a few years ago that got Ryan Gosling an Oscar nomination for his great performance as a drug addicted teacher. Sugar has a similar, almost documentary like feel to it. This is not a film that feels like it is staged. It feels likes we are eavesdropping on actual conversations and reality of Santos, and the people who revolve him. It is a very well made film.

Sugar is a fine film. It is a film that looks at the reality of the situation, rather than the romance of it. For every poor Dominican kid who makes it big in the majors, there are thousands of kids like Sugar, who struggle and never make it. In one telling scene, Sugar asks one of his American friends on the team what he would do if he didn’t have baseball, and he answers he would teach. He has a degree from Stanford, so if this doesn’t work out, he has that to fall back on. What would Sugar do? He doesn’t know. He left school to play baseball, and baseball is all he knows. If he cannot make it here, then he has nothing else. That is the reality, the tragedy, of this situation.

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