Film Reviews: Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Game 6
Starring Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr. Directed by Michael Hoffman. Written by Don DeLillo. Rated R.
Ground Ball to First

Don DeLillo waits until Game 6 to take up the sport of screenwriting.


Besides being a fantastic novelist, Don DeLillo is also a huge baseball fan who has worked his love for the sport into his writing — remember the 70-page opening of Underworld, set at the 1951 Dodgers-Giants playoff game? Game 6 is centered around another famous game, the one from the 1986 World Series that so traumatized Red Sox Nation. It’s not a novel, though. Rather, it’s DeLillo’s first attempt at writing a movie script, and it’d be interesting even if it were written by a total unknown.

The main character is Nicky Rogan (Michael Keaton), a successful playwright who’s in an edgy mood on Oct. 25, 1986. His new play, a serious autobiographical drama as opposed to his previous light comedies, is about to go on Broadway. His lead actor (Harris Yulin), one of America’s greatest thespians, has been stricken with a brain ailment that makes him forget his lines. The play will be written up by a newly appointed drama critic (Robert Downey Jr.) who’s already notorious for his poison reviews, one of which has reduced a playwriting friend (Griffin Dunne) to behaving like a street crazy. Meanwhile, Nicky’s beloved Red Sox are one win short of the championship. The author skips out on his show’s opening night to watch Game 6 in a bar filled with Mets fans, destined for pain like few sports fans will ever know.

The best thing here is Keaton, who by the way starred in a movie last year called White Noise that had nothing to do with the DeLillo novel of the same name. Nicky spends much of the movie putting out fires at the theater and his home, and Keaton’s at his best with characters who multitask like this; you can see his mental processes as he prioritizes and files stuff away for later. This performance rises or falls on the scenes when Nicky’s watching the game, and Keaton conveys not only the fan who lives and dies on every pitch but also the character who’s afraid to invest too much in the Sox or anything else.

Having polished some Hollywood efforts such as The Emperor’s Club and One Fine Day to a dull finish, director Michael Hoffman does a decent job with the pacing and the gritty New York atmosphere, assisted by Yo La Tengo’s ambient-funk soundtrack. Still, he steps on what should be the movie’s best moment, when we and Nicky see the end to Game 6 that never was: Bill Buckner fielding that ground ball cleanly and beating Mookie Wilson to first base. The special-effects here are cheesy and unconvincing. (For a truly amazing re-enactment of the game, log on at

The script’s strength is in its dialogue, which is pungent and true to the New York intellectual milieu — Nicky’s collegian daughter (Ari Graynor) tells him, “Mom says your demons are so intense, you don’t know when you’re lying.” This and DeLillo’s name might paper over the flaws for some moviegoers, but the film suffers from supporting characters who are hazy (Catherine O’Hara as Nicky’s estranged wife) or rickety (Lillias White as a cabdriver who watches the game with him and urges him to have faith). The climactic sequence with a gun-toting Nicky confronting the drama critic at his apartment is a hundred kinds of awkward and forced. Like many talented athletes taking up a new sport, DeLillo makes some embarrassing rookie mistakes but also shows intriguing flashes of talent. Wonder what he’ll do his next time at bat.

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