STUDIO: Sony Pictures
MSRP: $28.96
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes
•Casting Sugar: Interview with Algenis Perez Soto
•Deleted Scenes
•Making Sugar: Run the Bases
•Play Beisbol! The Dominican Dream

The Pitch

What it takes for Dominican Baseball players to make it in the big leagues, from the point of view of one Miguel “Sugar” Santos.

The Humans

Written and Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson)
Starring Algenis Perez Soto

Thomas knew the drill. He had been through it before. The old “bounce the ball off the assistant’s head and into the coach’s hands” trick.

The Nutshell

Sugar is an intelligent, human approach to the inspirational sports movie, which can sometimes not have the big, happy ending you expect.

The Lowdown

What does it take to get to the Major Leagues? Perhaps you play pee-wee baseball as a kid, you play catch with your father, keep practicing, play high school ball, get a college scholarship, and maybe one day you make it onto a MLB team. Well if you live in The Dominican Republic, you probably just play ball with your friends and can only dream of making it to the U.S.A., let alone to be paid millions to be a pro. Sugar traces the journey of what it really takes to come from the D.R. and make it.

So I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt. Which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ‘em. Gimme five bees for a quarter, you’d say. Now where was I… oh yeah. The important thing was that I had an onion tied to my belt, which was the style at the time. You couldn’t get white onions, because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones…

Dominicans have contributed a great share to the game of baseball, and as such MLB teams have set up a number of farms to cultivate young talent for their franchises, whether it be minor league single A, AA, AAA or the majors themselves. Sugar follows the journey of Miguel “Sugar” Santos, who as we meet him is working at being the best pitcher he can be for the Kansas City Knights’ training farm. This means essentially being in lockdown at the training facility. But it is all for the eventual goal of success and fame in the U.S.A. that he seeks to provide for his family and community, who all have high hopes for the boy.

Soon enough Miguel makes it to the minors for a team called the Iowa Swing. America is a whole new ballgame, pun intended. He has to deal with the language barrier, as he barely speaks the on-field English terms he was taught in training. He is also staying with a kindly old “white-bread” Middle-American couple, whose granddaughter he develops a crush on. He is alone, save the game he loves so dearly. The first time he is taken out of a game is painful. Miguel has a tough time handling the various stresses that come with trying to “make it” and the threat of simply being replaced looms around every lost game.

So the Scarface goes, ‘You Talkin to me? Man, that Brando was one great actor.

The journey is well told and apparently quite accurate for what the players actually go through. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck apply their cinema verite approach from Half Nelson here, making you feel like you are truly going through what Miguel experiences. The cinematography is so well done in terms of setting a palette for the differing worlds that after spending so much time in the D.R., when Miguel arrives in the States you feel like a complete alien yourself as an audience member. The pace and editing keep you engaged, even after a sudden turn in the last act. I would encourage not only baseball or fish-out-of-water story fans but anyone who enjoys a well told, smart film to see Sugar.

The film has been recut from the theatrical presentation for this DVD release, something that I’m told makes minor changes. A quick shot of a pornographic film, for instance, was eliminated. The scene still plays out much the same way and you get the gist of what is going on without it being explicit.  This is a film that broadens the audience who should be seeing it considerably by not being R rated, something that perhaps wasn’t considered in the theatrical release.

The greatest heist ever pulled. And no one would possibly suspect that the gold was hidden inside a baseball...

The Package

Sugar is presented in its original 1.78:1 anamorphic format. The audio mix is fine for a film of this scale, nothing to write home about. English subtitles are included for those of us who don’t speak Spanish, which a majority of the film is spoken in. The DVD contains several nice but brief special features.  ‘Making Sugar’ has the filmmakers and actors discussing what went into the production of the film and the passion behind it. It is informative and runs about 14 minutes. ‘Play Beisbol!’ continues with more information about the real life struggle of so many Dominicans trying to make it to Major League Baseball. This is intercut with the premiere of the film in the Dominican Republic and includes interviews with the Dominican President, as well as prominent Dominican MLB stars including David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Sammy Sosa, and many others. Similarly, this featurette runs about 12 minutes.

Deleted Scenes run about 8 minutes in all, for some reason presented in non-chronological order. There is a play all option. Mostly they are moments that you understand in the film without the presence of these scenes.  ‘Casting Sugar’ runs a little over 4 minutes and features the original interview from the casting sessions to find the perfect actor for the lead role. Apparently Soto was one of over four hundred people interviewed for the part. A theatrical trailer and some sneak previews for other Sony releases are also included.

8 out of 10