Conor O’Neill (Keanu Reeves) is a gambler who is going to be killed by his bookies unless he can pay off a $6,000 debt. When he finds out that he can make $500 a week just for coaching a little league team in the Chicago projects, he takes the job. He’s not planning on caring about the team but, of course, he does. He doesn’t expect to fall in love but when he meets his team’s 5th grade teacher (Diane Lane), he does. No one expects him to get his team to the championship but he does. When tragedy strikes one of his players, Conor and the team have to decide whether to keep playing or to give up.
Hardball is a movie that I wanted to like because Keanu Reeves is in it and the movie tells a good, heart-warming story. Hardball is really predictable, though, and the movie is so focused on Conor that you never really get to know most of the players on team or what winning the championship would mean to them. I wanted to know about the members of the team, all of whom were poor, black, and living in the most dangerous neighborhood in Chicago. (When Conor drops one of them off from practice, he’s told to duck whenever he walks by a window, just in case someone outside is shooting a gun.) There is one really powerful scene that drives home the reality of the danger that the kids on the team live with on a daily basis but other than that, the movie is almost all about the white coach and his problems. The team should be the heart of the movie but instead, Hardball focuses everything on Conor and whether or not he’s going to stick with coaching the team even when things get difficult. Even Conor says he’s done, everyone knows he’s not going anywhere.
The other thing that bothered me about Hardball is that, for a baseball movie, there wasn’t enough baseball. Conor didn’t spend any time discussing strategy with his players or doing any other coaching beyond telling his players not to trash talk each other and to always do their best. I understand that little league is not the same as major league baseball but I still would have liked to have seen more scenes of Conor actually being a coach and his players actually learning how to play the game.
Hardball‘s not all bad. It’s got a good heart and it’s got Keanu Reeves. I just wish it had more baseball.