I think it was baseball legend Yogi Berra that said ‘It ain’t over till it’s over.’
It sounds cliché but there’s truth to Berra’s words, especially as it comes to player themselves. There’s a natural drama that extends on the field that continues to make sports work well cinematically. The final at bat. The big home run. Victory and defeat. But what about the lives of the players when the game ends?
In The Royal, we see a man who hope that the game isn’t truly over yet, even if the score is not in his favour.
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento, The Royal tells the story of former Kansas City Royal slugger Willie Mayes Aikens (Amin Joseph). Once a renowned World Series hero, Aikens soon wasted his promising career with drugs and alcohol. Sentenced to 20 years in prison for crack cocaine distribution in 1994, Aikens used his time incarcerated to turn his life around. When he was eventually released, however, his family and friends are not as forgiving and Aikens must prove to them all that he deserves the one thing he wants most: a second chance.
Despite featuring solid performances all around, the true anchor of the film is Joseph himself. As a man seeking redemption, there’s a complexity to Aikens that is difficult to capture on the screen. However, Joseph manages to bring such humility to the role that one cannot help but root for the once-great sports hero. Although Aikens was a man who loved his daughter and wife, he was also a man plagued by demons. Joseph works hard to show Aikens’ daily battle without verbally addressing it in every scene. For example, in one particularly poignant moment, he ventures into a liquor store and we see his inner struggle play out on screen. These moments have emotional layers to them and Joseph shows considerable strength in his performance.
As it unravels the story of Willie Mays Aikens, The Royal is far more interested in the future than the past. Whereas many biopics focus their narrative on the journey towards the fall from grace, The Royal instead chooses to focus on Aikens‘ experiences now. In short, this is a film that wants to show you the type of man he is as opposed to the man he was. While we see glimpses of his past and hear stories of his antics, The Royaldepicts Akin is a man of courage and resiliency who simply wants to get his life back together. He wants a second chance.
Whether or not the people in his life are willing to give that to him is another story entirely.
Consistently viewed as the man who was plagued by addiction and arrogance, Aikens struggles to find his footing in this new chapter of his life. As he works tirelessly to repair relationships with his family, so too does he yearn for another opportunity to get back into the game of baseball. However, he was constantly told that the optics of his return would reflect negatively on shareholders and team management. (After all, to have an ex-con and drug addict in your organization would likely look bad, no matter how many home runs he had hit in his career.) Even so, Aikens is relentless in his pursuit. He is shown here to be a man who is truly been changed and wants to make things right.
As such, The Royal is a story that believes that life can come after the fall. Aikens owns his transgressions and recognizes his frailties and he makes no excuses for them. Though, he also seeks to prove that he is not that man anymore. In fact, much of his life moving forward seems to be embedded with a calling to fight for those who may be struggling as he once did, not to mention help them prevent themselves from falling too. Having gone through the valley of the shadow of death, Aikens has come out the other side and wants to live once again.
The Royal firmly believes that this is possible.
Coming at a time when these questions mount for many of our fallen celebrity heroes, the film firmly believes that redemption is possible. Although there will undoubtedly be challenges on the path to restoration, The Royal believes that the moments of our greatest darkness don’t necessarily define us. In fact, they can even prepare us for things that matter more than big home runs and big contracts. In spaces where genuine humility takes root, The Royal is a compelling story that shows us that there is an opportunity for those who fall to change.
Because the game is truly never over until it’s over.
The Royal is available on VOD and Digital on Friday, July 15th, 2022