Scripted by renowned novelist and playwright Don DeLillo, Game 6 might have been right at home on the page or in a Broadway theater, where its writerly dialogue, stilted staging, and self-conscious narrative tropes (an omniscient radio traffic reporter, a platitude-spouting African-American cabbie and her grandson, recurring scenes set in gridlock) possibly could have bestowed some destiny-tinged magic on its tale of failure and restoration. Up on the screen, though, DeLillo’s screenplay—about failure-loving playwright Nicky Rogan (Michael Keaton) on October 25, 1986, the day his new play opens on the Great White Way and his beloved Red Sox attempt to win their first championship since in game six of the World Series—is an awkward, affected mess that tries mightily to generate a profound mood of paranoia and anxiety.
Fixated on the paralyzing terror of not being in control of one’s future, the film labors under the onerous weight of its symbolism (an asbestos cloud mirrors Rogan’s pessimism, traffic jams reflect his emotional inhibition), a problem exacerbated by the somnambulant direction of Michael Hoffman (The Emperor’s Club). Monotonously charting Nicky’s day running into friends, family, lovers, and acquaintances during the hours leading up to showtime and first pitch, the story is primarily a series of bland encounters characterized by erudite talkiness and cosmic coincidences that ultimately confirm banalities like “life is good,” “people are reliable,” and “faith is rewarded.”
As Nicky, Keaton nimbly camouflages inner angst with a façade of denial-laced nonchalance, but like everyone else, he’s ultimately unable to transcend the proceedings’ pervasive contrivances. Shortly after Mookie Wilson’s grounder rolls through Bill Buckner’s wickets, Nicky finally deals with his darkest doubts by confronting infamously vicious critic Stephen Schwimmer (Robert Downey Jr.), a Zen-like recluse who looms over New York’s theater world like a journalistic Phantom of the Opera (facial blemish included) and who, in a bit of strained irony, turns out to be Nicky’s BoSox-tortured kindred spirit. Such a happy relationship between artist and reviewer, however, is not Game 6‘s likely fate.