61* Movie Review
Good movies about baseball make the game look like a lot of fun, sharing the enthusiasm and energy of the players. 61* doesn't do that. It does contain intense sequences of ball playing, but the main goal here is examining the overworked life a ballplayer must live in order to receive his short 15 minutes of fame. This movie allows us to take part in that experience, both positive and negative.
It's 1961. New York Yankee teammates Roger Maris (Berry Pepper) and Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) are both challenging Babe Ruth's 60 home run record. Mantle, outspoken and reckless, begins the season with a bang, but Maris, quiet and focused, doesn't look so promising. Fearing he might be traded during his first season, Maris starts cracking homer after homer, while Mantle's excessive lifestyle begins to slow his game. After moving in with Maris, Mantle begins to concentrate on taking care of himself and breaking the baseball record. The two soon converge and become "The M&M Boys."
Regardless of how close the score became, Mantle remained the public's favorite baseball player. Will Maris overcome the negative media coverage and discouraging public image and break the record, or will Mantle take home the honors. And regardless of who wins, will their friendship survive?
Billy Crystal directs with sincerity and passion, never losing his amiable sense of humor. The style, costume design, and the performances capture the 1960s well. Thomas Jane makes clear the contrast of his character at the beginning and end of the story. Berry Pepper proves that he is indeed a talented actor when he's not in Battlefield Earth. His performance is humble, soft, and lovable, although he creates an effective intensity underneath the quiet, compassionate character.
Touching and insightful, 61* not only displays the ups and downs of being a sports legend, it also proves that the best performance in a film doesn't have to come from a human actor. The film's Yankee Stadium scenes were shot at a disguised Tiger Stadium in Detroit. The filmmakers painted infield seats green, and a partial third deck and a 1961 Bronx skyline were digitally added later.