Sport biography movies are all starting to blend these days. Usually they follow them from their days as a child to when they eventually become pro and are rather formulaic whether it is about football, soccer, boxing, baseball, or any other sport. But one that stands out in my mind is Billy Crystal film about the his sports hero growing up, Roger Maris, and the rude awakening he had when he got to the “greatest baseball team of all time” the New York Yankees. It does not show him in high school hitting balls over the fence or in his back yard playing catch with his friends. You jump ahead to being in the big leagues for a few years now before signing with the Yankees. Now if you know anything at all about the sport of baseball, you know that the Yankees have a reputation for “buying players,” if that is what you want to call it.
61*’s synopsis is as follows: Family man and professional baseball player, Roger Maris (Barry Pepper), battles both on and off the field to be a successful with the demanding New York City audience as he enters a season-long home run competition with aging teammate Mickey Mantle (Tom Jane) to pass the record New York Yankee legend Babe Ruth. Here is the trailer:
It is rare to find a movie directed by the great Billy Crystal and surprisingly it is not a comedy! Do not get me wrong, there are plenty of humorous moments in the film but for the most part it is a very good drama. I first saw this film with my dad who has been a die-hard Yankee fan since birth and told me often about going to Yankee Stadium to see his favorite player, Mickey Mantle. 61* focuses on off the field events on top of on the field exposed me to all sorts of things I had no prior knowledge about including Mantle’s work hard, party harder mentality and the real toll the pressure of the city had on the Maris family as a whole. Seriously makes you think about the athletes you idolized growing up and all the potential real problems they may have.
On top of the fantastic story told in 61*, the acting was impeccable. Barry Pepper embodied the role of Roger Maris. Pepper is often in the supporting role so it is nice to see him take lead in a movie and do so well at it. If you caught one of my previous random movies of the week, Stander, then you know I am a huge Tom Jane fan and here is another movie of his that is lesser known where he really shows his acting chops. Jane’s portrayal of Mantle is uncanny from how he looks to how he talks. This movie features great, underrated performances from its two leading men. Then there are all the supporting actors, too many to even begin to mention! I guarantee when you watch it you will say “Hey, he’s in…” or at least “I know him from something…”
My rating for the movie is a definite 9/10. Billy Crystal’s passion for this season in baseball history just shines through. Even if you do not follow sports, you will find something to love about this movie!