Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Miguel “Sugar” Santos (Algenis Perez Soto), aspiring Dominican baseball star, is the focus of the sophomore effort from Half Nelson writer-director team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, a film long on empathy but short on revelation. Santos is eventually picked to play for a minor-league team in Iowa, and he takes with him the hopes of his family and the promise of economic prosperity. As the lastest entry in the long filmic history of films that depict the Great American Sweepstakes, however, we know that there is heartbreak to come.
Fans of the sport will doubtless admire the time Boden and Fleck take to let us soak in the finer details of the sport, and the time spent actually on the field is occasionally riveting. They’re also well-served by Soto, a first-time actor who ably communicates Santos’ alienation and sensitivity with economical grace. In fact, you might find yourself wishing that their directorial style reflected a similar sense of efficiency; Boden and Fleck favor fussy, elaborated techniques where a no-nonsense approach would have been more appropriate – lots of montages set to portenteous pop tunes (including a Spanish version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” a song that should be retired for good given its omnipresensce in the last half-decade), long, lonely tracking shots, and at least two additional plot threads that serve to further underline Santos’ estrangement from American value systems – a theme that needed no elaboration. Their visual style, too, is lacking – glossy and fixated on pretty images (a sunset, Iowan grasses, arcade lights) where an injection of grit would have been more viscerally engaging. As a sly commentary on American rat-race dynamics by way of sports movie, Sugar is more or less successful, but Boden and Fleck still lack the discipline necessary to craft a truly memorable film – or polemic.