It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Once in a very long time, a film “based on a true story” is both true, and almost too good to be a story. Perhaps anticipating any suspicion, William Dear intercuts newsreel footage from 1957 with “The Perfect Game,” frequently piping into the past for black and white, and then segueing into the color of the present day. These players really lived, and this game was really played.
The film begins in Monterrey, Mexico, seen here as an impoverished town with many baseball fans, who follow the Brooklyn Dodgers on the radio with nearly religious intensity. We meet young Angel Macias (Jake T. Austin), who aims at a bucket fastened to a wall as a strike zone and dreams of greatness on the mound. His father is not so enthusiastic.
The setup is traditional. The town's boys have time on their hands and need an activity to keep them out of mischief. Enter wise, gentle Padre Esteban (Cheech Marin), who thinks a baseball team might help. Newly returned to town is Cesar Faz (Clifton Collins Jr.), who was a prospect for the St. Louis team but was devalued and shunted aside, possibly because he was Mexican. Unable to take more of St. Louis management's racism, he returned home and is recruited by Padre Esteban, not without difficulty, to coach the kids' team.
Because the film is titled “The Perfect Game,” you expect one to be pitched. You do not expect it to be pitched in Monterrey. You sort of know how these underdog sports movies turn out. Doesn't matter. “The Perfect Game” so expertly uses the charisma and personalities of the actors, especially the young ones, that it's thrilling anyway.
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One of the most audacious American films from the 1960s is now available via the Criterion Collection.