Published Apr 16, 2009This seemingly standard sports story of a young Dominican baseball player who is brought to America to play professionally is deceptively coy in its intentions and ultimately winds up as an examination of cultural difference and Western apathy towards foreigners who are treated mainly as acquisitions and useful only when viable.
While foreshadowing is used appropriately in the film, albeit slatternly, the formula never dips into the typical pattern of assigning blame. Sugar is interested more in making careful observations about those who are seldom considered in a wholesome and genial manner.
Starting out within a Dominican baseball academy, which is essentially industrializing the business of exporting baseball players to America, Sugar paints a world of hope and possibility defined mostly by escaping current environments to fulfil the American dream. From this, Miguel "Sugar" Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) is drafted into the American Minor leagues and housed in Iowa with borders Earl and Helen Higgins (Richard Bull and Ann Whitney).
Speaking no English outside of baseball vernacular, Sugar struggles to adapt to the culture around him, relying mainly on a slightly more seasoned Dominican export Jorge Ramirez (Rayniel Rufino) for guidance and friendship. After finding initial success in the sport, Sugar begins to struggle to maintain that level due to his isolation and the lack of empathy and forgiveness surrounding him.
While the film could be easily argued as didactic and entirely predictable, focusing most of its energy on cultural observations and minor details, the keen insight on display isn't entirely subjective or uninvolved, giving it a cinematic purpose outside of the overt socio-analytical elements.
Performances could be described most accurately as competent rather than anything particularly exceptional, given that Sugar is really the only character imbued with any sort of depth. Adding some complexity to secondary characters might have heightened some of the emotional connectivity that the film clearly lacks. (Mongrel Media)