We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
Billy Bob Thornton stages a head-on collision between two previous roles in "The Bad News Bears," a movie in which he plays, and I quote, "a drunk who makes a living killing rats to live in a trailer." The movie is like a merger of his ugly drunk in "Bad Santa" and his football coach in "Friday Night Lights," yet he doesn't recycle from either movie; he modulates the manic anger of the Santa and the intensity of the coach and produces a morose loser who we like better than he likes himself.
The movie, directed by Richard Linklater, is a fairly faithful remake of the 1976 film starring Walter Matthau, which inspired sequels starring William Devane and Tony Curtis. They had strengths of their own, but following Matthau's boozy vulgarian was not one of them. Thornton's performance is obviously fond of the Matthau approach, but finds a weary sadness in Coach Morris Buttermaker, who made it out of the minor leagues long enough to play in one major league game.
His team, the Bears, exists only because of a lawsuit filed by attorney Liz Whitewood (Marcia Gay Harden), who believes the Little League discriminates; she files a class action suit demanding that the league accept all players. The Bears end up with bad players in several categories: a black kid, two Spanish speakers, an Indian, a kid almost too little to hold the bat and another one in a motorized wheelchair. What they have in common is not their minority status, but their inability to play the game.
They revived my own childhood memories of Little League, which I hated; it was a meritocracy in which good players were heroes and I was pointed toward right field with the hope that I would just keep on walking. Well, of course it was a meritocracy. Sports involves winning, and winning involves skills. What I could never figure out was how some kids had always been good at sports and others would never be any good, no matter how hard they tried: Kids like me, so nearsighted that the approach of a ball had to be described to me by teammates.