John Sayles once again does wonders with a large cast and a modest budget, convincingly re-creating 1919 Chicago and smartly offering a historical movie occupied by flesh-and-blood humans rather than historical icons. Matewan, his previous film, also told a story of labor woes, but the lines of sympathy in that film were clearer: the strikers were being abused, the strikebreakers were being used, and the mine owners were doing all the using and abusing. In Eight Men Out, White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey has little regard for his players' well-being, but their response (or the response of a selected number) to throw in with gamblers for the sake of a better payday, doesn't exactly place them in the labor hall of fame. On the other hand, Sayles paints these workers as more needy than greedy; pitcher Eddie Cicotte and infielder Buck Weaver, in particular, come off as anguished co-conspirators thanks to superb performances by David Strathairn and John Cusack. Eight Men Out doesn't offer the feel-good experience of Field of Dreams (though they do share one character, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson) or Bull Durham, but its honesty and faithfulness to the complexities of history ultimately make it a more valuable player in the history of sports films.
by Tom Wiener review