The game of baseball, ungoverned by the clock, is notoriously full of surprises, and the surprise of "Sugar" -- I don't mean the major third-act plot twist, which is astonishing when it happens and utterly logical in retrospect -- is that it's not really about baseball at all. It's about, among other things, the way America looks through the eyes of a stranger, about the beauty of the Caribbean, the Midwest and the South Bronx (skillfully evoked by the cinematographer Andrij Parekh), and about what it is to be a young man full of desire and potential in a world that seems starkly divided between haves and have-nots, success and failure.
Perhaps nowhere are these divisions more extreme than in the world of professional sports, which beguiles some of the poorest people in the hemisphere with specters of fabulous wealth. But even in that world, a lot of space is taken up by the middle ground: the modest paychecks sent to the family back home; the careers that culminate neither in glory nor in disgrace, but that flare up and peter out; the tiny increment of luck or timing that separates strike three from ball four.
And so "Sugar" walks away from clichés about the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, preferring to contemplate the satisfactions and frustrations that lie in between. It is both sad and hopeful, but the film's sorrow and its optimism arise from its rarest and most thrilling quality, which is its deep and humane honesty.
Making a good baseball movie -- or rather, a good movie about other things, but with baseball right in the middle of them -- isn't easy. There's "Bull Durham," and there's well, "Bull Durham."
I exaggerate. But only a little. I've got high hopes for this new one, though. And with Brad Pitt set to play Billy Beane, who knows? Maybe we've entered the golden age of baseball (and everything) movies.