Among mainstream documentary filmmakers, you could argue that Morgan Spurlock is the most gimmicky, Ken Burns is the most cerebral, and Michael Moore is the most self-serving. But few would dispute that Alex Gibney is the most prolific.
In the last five years alone, he’s directed eight documentaries, including critical hits like “Client 9” and “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2008.
This year, he’s back at Tribeca—which seems to have become a de facto launching pad for his films—with the sports-themed nail-biter “Catching Hell.” In it, he investigates the concept of scapegoating in baseball, as filtered through two of the most notorious cases in history: Red Sox baseman Bill Buckner at the 1986 World Series, and bleacher whipping boy Steve Bartman, who infamously intercepted a foul ball at the 2003 NLCS.
I’ll admit that I’m not a huge baseball fan and was marginally familiar with these two stories, so you can forgive me for not coming into this documentary with the bloodlust of a wronged Cubs lifer. I left it, though, feeling like I’d lynched Bartman along with all of Chicago: It sucks you in fiercely, holding you rapt with all sorts of sports minutiae you didn’t even know you cared about.
I’m amazed at how Gibney was able to turn a split-second moment of infamy into a captivating 102-minute documentary filled with such highs and lows. It’s clear that Gibney, a Massachusetts native, created this movie as both a filmmaker and fan—he admits to being a Red Sox diehard, natch. The film goes overboard, though, when it starts pontificating on lofty theories about scapegoating—at one point, he even talks to a preacher, and then things start zipping over your head. But when the action sticks to the outfield, it’s riveting stuff. —Alexis L. Loinaz