Starring: Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane, John Hawkes
Director: Brian Robbins
Running Time: 106 mins
Hard Ball is an American film about a man down on his luck who, in order to repay his debts, is tasked with coaching a little league baseball team, during which time he forms a deep bond with his players, and comes to understand the difficulties they face in growing up in a troubled environment.
Hard Ball has all the hallmarks of a cheesy, uplifting family movie, but there’s surprisingly a lot more to this film than first meets the eye. While it is admittedly jarring at first, Hard Ball isn’t the Bad News Bears reboot you might expect, but rather a film with some rather challenging and often gritty drama that takes a simple premise and makes it both refreshing and captivating.
But again, there’s a good chance that you’ll start watching Hard Ball like it’s an easy-going family movie. After all, there’s very little in the first act to really warn you of the heavier drama that comes to dominate the story later on – and so when the first moment of real drama comes into play, it really feels out of place. In fact, it took me a good while to really settle into the reality of what this film exactly is, but once I did – I was surprised by how well it worked.
Featuring a wonderfully earnest lead performance by the always-likable Keanu Reeves, Hard Ball is a film that does well to make you sympathise with its main characters, both Reeves in his efforts to get his own life on track, as well as the boys he’s coaching, who need a bit of elation in their life amid a rather difficult environment.
Both Reeves’ story and that of the boys evolve significantly through the film, and while Reeves finds himself in a complex romance with co-star Diane Lane, the boys’ fortunes go through a dramatic series of ups and downs as they taste success on the baseball field, but tragedy off it.
Sobering drama aside, however, the baseball element of the film serves as a brilliant anchor for you to really invest your emotions in the boys’ lives, making the darkest and saddest moments of the story late on all the more powerful, and a thoroughly impressive height for Hard Ball as a whole.
So, with an impressive blend of challenging and captivating drama, heartfelt depth and sporting highs and lows, there’s a lot about Hard Ball that will keep you engrossed – while its lead actors all knock it out of the park with lovable, complex performances which only deepen the film’s dramatic worth. And that’s why I’m giving Hard Ball a 7.6 overall.