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Blu-ray Review: Hardball (2001)

September 23, 2021

By John Corrado

This week, Paramount is releasing the 2001 sports drama Hardball for the first time ever on Blu-ray, in honour of the film’s 20th anniversary this month.

Directed by Brian Robbins, who was hired off the success of his football drama Varsity Blues two years earlier, the film stars Keanu Reeves in the role of Conor O’Neil. Conor is a Chicago grifter who is aimlessly trying to earn enough cash to get by through gambling and scalping tickets, spending many nights drunk at the sports bar.

When he is left with several thousands of dollars in new debt, and local bookies coming after him for the money, Conor goes begging his businessman friend Jimmy (Mike McGlone) for another loan.

Jimmy gives him another proposition; he will pay Conor five hundred dollars a week to coach a Little League baseball team in the Cabrini-Green projects for ten weeks, which he reluctantly agrees to as a way to pay off his debts. Conor’s attempts to coach the team make up the bulk of the story. The team is made up of a group of African-American kids from the inner city, and Conor starts off indifferent to their needs, putting in the bare minimum amount of coaching work in order to earn the cash.

But, in true sports movie fashion, Conor forms a bond with the boys and becomes like a father figure as he guides their team the Kekambas (named after a tribe in Africa) to growing success. The biggest thing that can be said about Hardball is that the film follows a number of sports movie clichés, and Conor’s character also falls pretty heavily into the stereotypical “white saviour” trope, which many audiences will be more acutely aware of now than they probably were twenty years ago.

While Reeves is sometimes wooden, the actor still manages to have a charismatic screen presence in this post-Matrix dramatic role, as the screenplay requires him to show a range of emotions. The supporting cast also includes Diane Lane as a school teacher and love interest; John Hawkes as Conor’s gambling partner; and a young Michael B. Jordan in one of his first roles as the oldest kid on the team.

The film, which was incidentally released only a few days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, debuted atop the box office despite receiving lukewarm reviews, making this an example of a movie that did better with audiences than with critics. The story is undeniably manipulative in places, but Hardball is still pretty entertaining as a mostly predictable early-2000s sports movie, punctuated by a few admittedly effective dramatic scenes and some more genuine moments of uplift.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray comes with a number of previously released bonus features. There is no digital copy included in the package.

Commentary by director Brian Robbins and writer John Gatins

The Making of Hardball (12 minutes, 25 seconds): This archival piece features interviews with the cast and looks at the production of the film, including the bond that Reeves, fresh off of his success in The Matrix, formed with the child actors, many of whom were on set for the first time.

Deleted Scenes (7 minutes, 7 seconds)

Duffy’s Tavern (3 minutes, 58 seconds)

The Funeral Parlor (1 minute, 27 seconds)

Talking to the Kids (1 minute, 41 seconds)

Music Video – “Hardball” by Lil’ Bow Wow, Lil’ Wayne, Lil’ Zane and Sammie (4 minutes, 9 seconds)

Interstitials

Andre/Baseball Star (27 seconds)

Andre/Bling, Bling (27 seconds)

Kofi (22 seconds)

Theatrical Trailer (3 minutes, 8 seconds)

Hardball is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 106 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: September 21st, 2021

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