> Grade: A +
Keanu Reeves portrays Conor O'Neill, a shallow lowlife habitual gambler who is given an opportunity to crawl out of an abyss of self-obsession to realize a whole new lifestyle when he becomes coach for an inner-city youth baseball team.
   Conor lives a poor existence in Chicago, seemingly unemployed, making ends meet by running sports bets with the bookies.
   He divides his time by hiding from bookies who he hasn't been able to pay off, and periodically getting beaten up when he can't get away. The most recent bets have been made using money he borrowed to supposedly bury his father, who recently died. But, those bets didn't pay off either and things are looking pretty grim for Conor.
   Having to resort to pleading for money from associates of his father, Conor is forced to take on a `job' coaching a little league team made up of inner-city kids. If he can stick with it, he'll collect $500 a week, which he can use to pay off some debts. But, it's hard for this compulsive gambler to refrain from getting deeper into it, even though he knows he should be more responsible.
   Simply showing up for practice is quite a trick, not only for Conor, but for the kids on the team as well. These kids live in a war zone in the Chicago projects where going anywhere after dark isn't an option.
   At first, Conor only goes to practice in order to collect the weekly stipend. But gradually he begins to soften and can't help but become involved in the lives of his team members. Even though he is inclined to recover only as much as necessary, and get right back into the thick of it as soon as possible, Conor surprises even himself when he can't stop caring about the kids.
   Hardball hits a home run. There's nothing about this movie that isn't good (no matter what Dave says).
   Reeves' portrayal of Conor is totally convincing. So much so, that you can actually tell what he's thinking without any dialogue being exchanged. The kids that make up the `Kekambas' baseball team are absolutely persuasive in their roles.
   The story is so well told without having to resort to the obvious, that the whole experience of sitting through this film is completely rewarding - and it leaves a warm glow. What more can you ask for in a movie?
**** Hardball is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some violence
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