“The Rookie” meets “Levity.” This blend of two inspirational movies—one light and one dark—names the contours of the 2019 indie film, Bottom of the Ninth.
Thirty-eight-year-old Sonny Stano (Joe Manganiello) emerges from prison 17 years after he accidentally killed another townie. He’s shattered. He wears the weight of guilt. He had been the Bronx’s promising hitter and even signed with the Yankees. Now? Nothing. He’d lost the keys to the kingdom.
Will Stano let himself have a second chance? Because ready or not, a second chance is a-comin’. Stano returns to his mother’s apartment in the Bronx neighborhood he has harmed. While some welcome him home, others make him pay again. His employer is a maddening narcissist. A threatening cop, cousin to Stano’s love interest, warns him off. Even Stano’s parole officer whacks him verbally every chance possible.
But then his old coach arrives. Coach Harris still sees Stano for who he is and for who he can be. This coach (Michael Rispoli) delivers a second chance that seems to be only threatening to the broken protagonist who no longer believes in a life purpose. Come back to baseball, come back to the field. Play ball.
Sofia Vergara, who is married to Manganiello in real life, is Stano’s love interest Angela Ramirez. In the film, Stano calls her “Angel,” and that she is. She’s a lovely character: a single mom who is teaching at Columbia University and taking mighty good care of her daughter. Her nickname confirms it. She’s a good person. There is a refreshing dignity in their relationship and tenderness. I wanted this broken relationship to be repaired.
Local color is rich. The Bronx permeates the story in street scenes, ball fields, skyline, and accents. On one date, Stano takes Angel to the old Yankee Stadium, now Heritage Park. He imagines the stadium’s glory days and teaches her about the ballfield where Lou Gehrig gave his “luckiest man” speech and the likes of Babe Ruth trotted bases.
I had to forgive the movie its opening. It starts in a prison-scene flashback. Camera work isn’t great. I persisted and was rewarded. I would have missed the sparkling scenes this movie offers. Language is prevalent, but always realistic.
A redemptive story, Bottom of the Ninth is fresh. Fresh stars. Fresh locale. Fresh take on broken dreams renewed by love. This worthy, thoughtful indie film is now available on DVD and streaming. (Saban Films)