Sugar

Prodigiously talented writer-director duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck knock it out of the park with this mightily impressive follow-up to their 2007 indie hit ‘Half Nelson’. In ‘Sugar’, the pair skilfully dismantle the timeworn themes, characters and story patterns of the conventional sports movie and then reassemble them as a rich, socially astute realist drama about commerce, estrangement and communication in the US.

At its centre is conflicted yet cocky 19-year-old Miguel ‘Sugar’ Santos (newcomer Algenis Perez Soto), an ace baseball pitcher from the Dominican Republic who is scouted by a minor league team in Iowa. While the tale of Sugar’s swift rise up the ranks is an engaging one, Boden and Fleck are more interested in building on the subtle textures and ambient moodscapes that surround their hero. The machismo, bluster and sentimentality found in more Ron Shelton-like fare is shelved in favour of fashioning a moving and frank snapshot of the immigrant experience in America.

Soto’s wistful, unselfconscious central performance keeps us rooting for him throughout, a feat made doubly impressive by the fact that the directors have ditched the far-fetched romantic inclinations of ‘Half Nelson’ in favour of tougher, leaner characterisations. On one level, the film works as a dispassionate essay on the heartlessness of commercialism and its rampant exploitation of developing populations, but it’s equally an account of Sugar’s journey to emotional and spiritual maturity. Here is a young man who is only able to put his desires and dreams into perspective when he knows what it’s like to have been swallowed up by the beast of big business.

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday June 5 2009
Duration: 115 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Screenwriter: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Cast: Algenis Perez Soto
Rayniel Rufino
Andre Holland
Ann Whitney
Ellary Porterfield
Jaime Tirelli
Jose Rijo

Average User Rating

5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:1
  • 4 star:0
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|2
1 person listening
Phil Ince

This is a really wonderful film that should have been top of the charts for a month. As a UK viewer whose ignorant of the sport, it's seems not to be a sports film in any significant way. Baseball is only a partial venue for a most moving and humane story. It's a film about a genially-arrogant, young Spanish-speaker who is selected to play baseball in the States. Despite widespread good will from his host family and team, Sugar is alienated and crushed by his lack of English and his employers' lack of Spanish. Following an injury, fear and foolishness lead him to take illegal stimulants and a catastrophic performance on the field so humiliates him that he walks away from this dream. He is eventually restored and redeemed by humbler employment and company. A beautiful film about good will wasted through incomprehension but also about the good use a young man makes of dire experience to achieve fulfillment and maturity. Subtle, subststantial and skillfully filmed. No better film will win an Oscar.

Phil Ince

This is a really wonderful film that should have been top of the charts for a month. As a UK viewer whose ignorant of the sport, it's seems not to be a sports film in any significant way. Baseball is only a partial venue for a most moving and humane story. It's a film about a genially-arrogant, young Spanish-speaker who is selected to play baseball in the States. Despite widespread good will from his host family and team, Sugar is alienated and crushed by his lack of English and his employers' lack of Spanish. Following an injury, fear and foolishness lead him to take illegal stimulants and a catastrophic performance on the field so humiliates him that he walks away from this dream. He is eventually restored and redeemed by humbler employment and company. A beautiful film about good will wasted through incomprehension but also about the good use a young man makes of dire experience to achieve fulfillment and maturity. Subtle, subststantial and skillfully filmed. No better film will win an Oscar.