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Movie Review by Neils Hesse

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane, John Hawkes, Trevor Morgan, D B Sweeney
Director: Brian Robbins

This film follows the life of a troubled young man Conor O’Neil (Keanu Reeves) who has a serious gambling problem and thus owes a lot of money to some very rough people. He approaches a friend Jimmy (Mike McGlone) for a loan to pay off his debts. Jimmy agrees to lend Conor the money on condition that he coaches a baseball team of African American ten year-olds – a project set up in a tough, disadvantaged part of Chicago. Conor reluctantly agrees to coach the team and in the process is coerced into getting the boys to do some schoolwork by their teacher, Elizabeth Wilkes (Diane Lane).

As Conor spends more time with the team he begins to take a closer look at his empty, frustrated and cynical lifestyle. The team in turn start to realise the true joys of friendship and of having a role model. Conor’s gambling Buddy ‘Ticky’ (John Hawkes) keeps on pushing him to gamble whilst Elizabeth tries to convince him to continue helping the boys through his coaching. Conor eventually has to decide whether to return to his former lifestyle or embrace a new bright and hopeful future.

This is a simple and very uplifting film. Keanu Reeves plays his role as a man with no hope very well and the manner in which his approach to the boys’ changes as he starts to get his ability to hope back is well executed. Diane Lane is equally good in her role of a teacher who wants the best for her kids and is attracted to this man who inspires them to do great things, although her screen time is minimal.

John Hawkes is also very convincing in his role of a gambler who knows nothing else. A host of budding African American talent from the young boys in the basketball team shone through with a standout performance from DeWayne Warren, who plays G-Baby, a small boy who is forced to grow up by his circumstances but still has the innocence that all children have – absolutely excellent acting.

Brian Robbins (VARSITY BLUES, READY TO RUMBLE) direction is well paced and sticks to its central theme of reforming both the boys and the coach. There is also an interesting soundtrack scored by veteran Mark Isham mixed with some hip-hop, R&B and rap.

While the development of Keanu Reeves’ character could have been better, it is still a very good movie that adults and children can both enjoy and learn from.

4 out of 6 stars