Knuckleball!

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Knuckleball!
Directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg
Amelia & Theo Films
Opens September 21, IFC Center

Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg made a name for themselves with films like The Trials of Darryl Hunt, socially conscious docs with life-or-death stakes; they then extended that seriousness of inquiry to the subject of Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, re-evaluating a groundbreaking comedy career with the weight of activism. They pull a similar trick with Knuckleball!, which infiltrates the secret brotherhood of the "trick pitch," thrown by only "70 to 80 total pitchers in the history of the world." At the start of the 2011 season, there were just two knuckleballers in the MLB: Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, who at 44 was the oldest active player in baseball; and R.A. Dickey of the Mets. While the rest of baseball fetishizes the 100-mph spinning fastball, these guys throw 60-mph balls that ride the wind with no spin—and tie all-star batters up in knots. Stern and Sundberg paint knuckleballers as mavericks, patiently working through discrimination to plumb a craft that their industry doesn't understand. For coaching and moral support, they rely on the few surviving knuckleballers and—incredibly, in a game in which teams craft elaborate hand gestures to hide their strategy from their opponents—each other. Knuckleball! is literally and admirably inside baseball: The ample slo-mo beauty photography of Wakefield and Dickey showing their stuff doesn't balance out the wonkiness of the level of discourse. But I could watch Phil Niekro reminisce about being owned by Bill Buckner for days. If you know what that means, you probably could, too. Karina Longworth

 
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