The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg Review
By James Brundage
While Keeping the Faith cracks enough Rabbi jokes to keep the masses happy, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg actually has something to offer to the cinematic world. Blending fan interviews with archival footage, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg is one of the most lighthearted documentaries to come out in ages.
Hank Greenberg was not the first Jewish ballplayer, but he was the first Jewish ballplayer to keep his last name when he entered the game. As such, Greenberg faced anti-Semitic comments in addition to the insults that come with the game. As its title would suggest, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg discusses how Greenberg dealt with that (such as the decisions to take certain religious holidays off). It also discusses how Greenberg's very presence brought hope into the hearts of Jewish people everywhere, and does all of this in a humorous fashion, to boot.
The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg is filled with many memorable moments, such as when two Rabbis discussed how they used the Torah to play baseball in the Synagogue. It is also filled with lots of information about the events in Greenberg's life. Sadly, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg is about all that the film has in it. Greenberg's iconoclastic status is examined, but his mind is never probed. The world around Greenberg is sampled, but Greenberg himself is never fully explored. Were this a narrative film, I would call it bad characterization. As a documentary, I merely call it an oversight.
Then again, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg doesn't really seem to be about him. It seems to be about how Greenberg affected the world around him. And that sets The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg on course to become one of the "Sports of the 20th Century" documentaries on HBO. Which, considering the enormous quality of this film, is a damn shame.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Thursday 1st October 1998
Distributed by: Cowboy Booking International
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Fresh: 63 Rotten: 2
Cast & Crew
Also starring: Ira Berkow, Bob Feller, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Carl Levin, Sander Levin, Walter Matthau, Michael Moriarty, Hal Newhouser, Dick Schaap, Aviva Kempner