Aim for the bleachers
There were a lot of factors that went into Roger Maris' record setting season of 61 home runs back in 1961. The friendly rivalry with Micky Mantle, who was also going for the record - a generally more sedate lifestyle than Mantle's - a season free of injury - the public's seeming infinite admiration for Mantle, and disinterest leading to near hatred for the perceived outside Maris. It took more than just a baseball player to persevere through these circumstances. And certainly those circumstances did a lot to create that baseball player.
Billy Crystal, as a director, seems to also have benefited from a number of different factors. A big part of this was his ability to chose a subject which he very clearly loves - he personally thanks his own father at the end of the film for introducing him to the sport. The story also lends itself to this kind of movie. Maris was a private man who was treated quite poorly. He wasn't interested in adolations but the hostility did inevitably have its effect. There were also a number of parallels for the film to take advantage of - most notably the race to break Babe Ruth's record in 1961 being reflective in Maris' record being broken in 1998. The point here being that, although Crystal has directed a great film, that does not yet make him a great director. His work is more than competent, but the success we see on screen is due in large part to the material, more so than your typical film.
It's been a while since a movie has been able to impact me like 61* - perhaps a number of things factor into that as well, but it's a rare film that transcends simple technique and story to have a pure emotional impact. Perhaps, like Schindler's List, this has something to do with it being a true story. There are moments when the romanticized indulgence is designed to sweep us away. Many films use the same techniques and just feel manipulative in return. 61*, on the contrary, earns such moments. We get to wallow around in the low and uncomfortable places, to see what these people are really made of, each unique individual trying to make do in an unusual situation. This film achieves a kind of objectivity that is rare for this type of film - we even get a good explanation of what is motivating the fans in their dislike of Maris.
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