The latest movie from Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, (the same team behind the critically acclaimed Half Nelson) is a thoroughly enjoyable reality check. Sugar is a sports film, but instead of getting caught up in clichés, the film shines a light on the ramifications of MLB baseball recruitment in the Dominican Republic. Touching, at times harsh, but most of all realistic, the story follows major league hopeful Miguel Santos (Algenis Soto), a promising prospect who gets shipped off to a triple A team in Iowa from his tight knit and poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Santo Domingo.
Soto truly shines in his breakout role as Miguel. His intense screen presence invites the audience to share in the isolation and fear Miguel feels as he is plucked from the only home he has ever known. Sugar also forces the viewer to question what happens to these young men if and when they don't make it to the major leagues. After training all their lives toward one goal, forgoing education and freedom along the way, what options are left for them if they fail? Soto's best friend vocalizes this frustration, declaring, "¡No soy un caballo!" ("I'm not a horse!") when he is released from the team due to injury. Eventually, the cold manner in which the players are handled leads Miguel to reconsider his dreams and goals.
Fleck and Boden use baseball to touch upon deeper themes like cultural isolation, language barriers and immigration. But in the end, Sugar is a coming of age story about a young Latino man, faced with hard choices and a future that may not be as certain as everyone once assumed.
Check out the trailer below: