The Lost Son of Havana (2009)

Genres - Culture & Society, Sports & Recreation  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Social History, Sports  |   Run Time - 120 min.  |   Countries - United States  |  
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Review by Josh Ralske

Luis Tiant is one of the more colorful characters in the history of Major League Baseball, and there's a great story to be told about his life. Sadly, in Jonathan Hock's tepid documentary, The Lost Son of Havana, that amazing tale is undercut by Hock's flashy framing device, which involves Tiant returning to Cuba to visit his old neighborhood. The real climax of the film is Tiant's reunion with his parents in the U.S. over thirty years earlier, when his father, a former star pitcher in the Negro Leagues, first saw Tiant pitch in a Major League Baseball game, for the Red Sox, in a pivotal World Series game against the Cincinnati Reds. The dramatic arc of Tiant's career, with its many ups and downs, his decades of exile from his homeland and his family, his self-reinvention as a ballplayer, and his late success as a fan favorite and ace starter for a great Red Sox team, offers plenty of emotional drama, particularly to baseball fans. His noteworthy but comparatively uneventful return home to Cuba would have made a fine coda to the film. As the dramatic centerpiece of The Lost Son of Havana, it doesn't quite work. Certainly, it's interesting to see that there are still people in his old neighborhood that remember him, though most of those that greet him are not clearly identified in the film. And the poverty and privation faced by his old neighbors and distant relatives is in stark contrast to the relatively comfortable life that Tiant enjoyed after making the painful choice to remain in the U.S. But this visit, facilitated in part by the filmmakers, is by no means the dramatic core of Tiant's story, and that's the way it's presented. This gives the documentary an oddly distended and anticlimactic feel.