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Where to begin with Michael Hoffman's Game 6? It's a good, small film that deserved more than its cursory festival circuit/small theatrical release/quick DVD fate. It has a host of appealing/interesting ingredients: actors like Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Griffin Dunne, Bebe Neuwirth, and a winning young Ari Graynor (who was the best thing, drunk-acting up a storm, in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist); a gritty, surreal New York City in 1986; the misery and joy of being a Red Sox fan (a rich subject); the Great White Way and lots of jabs at critics; and, most importantly, a screenplay by canonical writer Don DeLillo, his first foray on the big screen.
Nicky Rogan (Keaton), the playwright at the center of this flick, has a life tilting off its axis, spinning into DeLillo-friendly absurdity. (There's even an airborne toxic event.) On the day that his latest, most personal play is set to debut on Broadway, Nicky's taking taxis across town that are forever stuck in a strange loop of never-moving traffic, running into his daughter (Graynor); his colleague, Elliott Litvak (Dunne); his mistress, Joanna Bourne (Neuwirth); and his father. Failure—spectacular, Red Sox-like failure—looms over the impending debut. Notorious critic Steven Schwimmer (a mesmerizing Downey Jr.) is due to write a review, and the lead actor in his play, Peter Redmond (Harris Yulin) can't remember his lines due to a "parasite in his brain." Nicky is tempted to just drop out of the world for the night and watch his Red Sox play the Mets in that fated game.
The satisfying thing about Game 6 is that it sounds like DeLillo—the dialogue is heightened, artistic. Nicky on the beauty of the Sox: "When the Mets lose, they just lose. It's a flat feeling. But the Red Sox—here we have a rich history of interesting ways to lose a crucial game. Defeats that keep you awake, that pound in your head like the hammer of fate. You can analyze a Red Sox defeat day and night for a month and still uncover layers of complex feelings—feelings you didn't know you were capable of. The pain has a memory all of its own." And the script is enlivened with DeLillo's obsessions: baseball (the writer's classic Underworld begins with a 50-page description of a game), Americana (in this case, as seen through a recurring motif of New York cabbies), and strange, tough language.
It used to be that the two words "Game 6" would cast a chill in the hearts of New Englanders. October 25, 1986, was a day of mythic proportions: a day where a historical World Series win was in sight, until it fell between Bill Buckner's legs. And so the Mets won, and the Red Sox continued to lose. Perhaps the Red Sox did the movie a disservice by winning the World Series in 2004, and breaking the 86-year-old Curse of the Bambino—nevertheless, Game 6 does a remarkably accurate job of capturing the highs and lows, the joys and miseries, of being a fan, and the particular misery of Boston's cursed history. It blows Fever Pitch out of the water, in that sense. Keaton—whose motormouth delivery does DeLillo's language justice—goes through a whole lifetime on his face as he watches the game. It's a bravura piece of acting.
And if Game 6 were merely a baseball film, that would have been enough. But this film gives us even more. The script, and Hoffman's sure hand, are working towards greater insights, with something to say about winning, losing, and expectations in the midst of one long adventure of a day. It's a film that took fifteen years to develop, which is a shame; the sneaky charm and weird world of DeLillo on the big screen are intelligent, and necessary, and we'd like to see more.
Game 6 is a cult film in the making.
Game 6 is one of the films available—for free, in its entirety—on the recently-launched Tribeca Film Channel on YouTube. Over the next few weeks, we will be exploring the rest of the catalogue, but you can check it out for yourself by subscribing (for free) today.