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Buy from Amazon

Buy from Amazon.com

HBO presents
Soul of the Game (1996)

"I say white folks is crazy, baby, but they're not stupid."
- Satchel Paige (Delroy Lindo)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: February 27, 2001

Stars: Delroy Lindo, Mykelti Williamson, Blair Underwood
Other Stars: Edward Herrmann
Director: Kevin Rodney Sullivan

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (language and brief sensuality)
Run Time: 01h:34m:14s
Release Date: January 23, 2001
UPC: 026359130922
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ ADC- D

DVD Review

Soul of the Game is set in the segregated days of 1945 —Major League Baseball is a lily-white institution, while Satchel Paige (as portrayed by Delroy Lindo), Josh Gibson (Mykelti Williamson) and Jackie Robinson (Blair Underwood) draw crowds in the Negro Leagues. When Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Edward Herrmann) decides that America's National Pastime just might be ready for integration on the diamond, he announces the formation of the "Brooklyn Brown Dodgers" to provide cover for his scouts, while secretly planning to sign black players to his existing team.

It's difficult for those of us born after the mid-1960s to comprehend the established racism of the decades previous, and Soul of the Game does a good job depicting the realities of the time—director Kevin Rodney Sullivan pulls few punches in this regard. When Paige, Robinson, and Paige's wife Lahoma (Salli Richardson) stop at a small roadside store, Lahoma befriends a young white girl, talking to her about movies and helping her do her hair up, only to be told that "Daddy don't allow no niggers in the house" when she asks if she might use the bathroom. The Negro League players prefer playing in South America, because there they can stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and just enjoy life, without worrying about "White Only" restrictions. Branch Rickey (Herrmann) comes off as the most progressive man of his generation, but his eagerness to sign Robinson is motivated in part by his desire to secure his own place in history. The film successfully portrays a society in transition, just after World War II (a conflict in which African-American contributions were significant) but before the civil rights gains that would follow, and the script treats the subject intelligently, without resorting to stereotyping or cardboard characterizations.

The cast rises to the occasion, delivering richly drawn, complexly realized characters onscreen. Particular kudos are due to Delroy Lindo's aging Paige, desperate for mainstream success and frustrated by the educated Robinson's immediate acceptance—his every word and gesture communicates significant emotional subtext, and his ups and downs evoke deep sympathy. Blair Underwood's Robinson is talented, intelligent, and willing to make his own decisions without kowtowing to racial/political interests on either side; even Edward Herrmann is in fine form here, mustering enthusiasm and a credibility unseen in much of his recent work. Mykelti Williamson depicts Josh Gibson's unfortunate mental deterioration with sensitivity and strength, and his sweaty, unreasoning rages are among the film's most successful moments. It's not easy to portray revered historical characters without lionizing them, but Soul of the Game pulls it off—these are all real people, whose frailties and flaws make us appreciate their accomplishments even more.

Soul of the Game manages to be both entertaining and educational, and anyone with an interest in baseball or civil rights will find plenty to enjoy here. Fine work from HBO Films and director Kevin Rodney Sullivan.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: HBO presents Soul of the Game in a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, with a very solid anamorphic transfer. Unfortunately, it appears that the 1.78:1 image presented here was cropped down from a 1.33:1 full-frame original—there are several shots where heads are cut off or composition is otherwise made awkward by the matting. The DVD transfer is reasonably detailed and clean, but a tad below average, with slightly reddish color and some visible edge enhancement; these flaws, combined with the ill-considered cropping of the made-for-cable production, lower this grade significantly.

Image Transfer Grade: D

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoSpanishyes
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Soul of the Game on DVD features an English Dolby 2.0 Surround soundtrack, a French 2.0 Stereo track, and a Spanish 1.0 monophonic track. The cable movie production was originally mastered in analog Dolby Surround, and the DVD transfer sounds a bit muddy in many scenes, with dialogue obscured or poorly balanced against atmospheric sound effects; there are even a few scenes with audible "live" background rumble. The audio does feature some nice surround usage and a bit of low-end activity in Lee Holdridge's nostalgic score, but the dialogue issues are occasionally very distracting. The French track retains the surround sound effects of the English track, though music is mixed for the front soundstage, and the Spanish mono track sounds significantly flatter, as would be expected; dialogue is slightly clearer in both of the dub tracks, though the performances often suffer badly in the translation.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: HBO's Soul of the Game DVD features few extras, just 16 picture-menu chapter stops, biographies and "highlight" filmographies for 4 cast members and the director, and subtitles in three languages. It might have been nice to see some photos or footage of the Negro League greats, but the film does a good job of establishing the historical context and doesn't cry out for documentary enhancement.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

Soul of the Game captures a major turning point in American history, the signing of Jackie Robinson to play baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers, enhanced by a fine cast and a naturalistic script. HBO's DVD features a middling, cropped transfer, with no supplements to speak of, but the film is still well worth a rental. Recommended.

 


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