If you love an underdog story, then you will love this.
In the 1970s, Actor Bing Russell, father of Kurt Russell, started the only independent ball club (not owned by a major league team) in the Northwestern US, the Portland Mavericks. True to their maverick name, they did not play by the “rules” that defined traditional teams. They hired outcasts who had been kicked out of the Majors, they hired people who had aged past their primes, they hired minorities as coaches, they had the first female general manager in baseball. Moreover, they won a lot against teams that were better funded. During their entire run, they never had a losing record. Their story is that of a scrappy group of warriors rebelling against the MLB Corporate overlords. If the whole thing wasn’t true, it’d sound ridiculous.
This is one of the best documentaries that I’ve seen in a long time. Due to my lack of interest in most professional baseball since the 90s, I hadn’t really considered watching it when it came out, but that was definitely my loss. You don’t have to like baseball to like this movie; in fact, knowing almost nothing about baseball won’t hurt you at all. This story isn’t about how a team made great catches or hit home runs, it’s about a team with a lot of personalities that would never have been allowed on a field in any other circumstances.
Much of the movie is narrated by the surviving members of the team, including Kurt Russell, who played for them briefly before injuries forced him back to acting, Todd Field, the Oscar-nominated writer/director who was a batboy for the team, Rob Nelson, Jim Swanson, Frank Peters, Robert Richardson, and Jon Yoshiwara. A ton of other great personalities appear in archive footage, due to the amount of film clips there were of the team, mostly due to the fact that they were fan favorites.
While a few elements of the movie didn’t really work great for me, mostly the ways in which they present the newspaper clippings, those were overshadowed by the clear love of the story that comes out through the film. It makes sense, given that the directors are the grandsons of Bing Russell, Chapman and Maclain Way. There are an insane number of twists and explanations at the end, alone, that would have made the entire film worth watching, and it feels like the creators knew exactly what they were doing with that final set of revelations. Moreover, the final act crystallizes what the Mavericks were really doing, trying to prove that the monopoly of Major League Baseball was really just killing America’s love of the game. Given the fact that American interest in the sport has been dropping compared to the amount of money spent on payroll and promotion for the last 20 years, they had a point.
Overall, great film. Give it a watch some time.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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