"Game 6," lyrically scripted by Don DeLillo, is a parable about displaced obsession and the ways in which our devotion to a single sports team can impact our outlook on life as a whole, or perhaps how our outlook on life as a whole determines the sports teams we root for. It's about success and failure and about facing fears.
Really, it's about a playwright named Nicky (Michael Keaton), a successful man who can't bring himself to accept the idea of his success. It's the evening of the opening of his new show, his most personal play yet. Despite the buzz around the show, he's preoccupied with two things -- the presence of a feared theater critic (Robert Downey Jr.) in the audience and the World Series game at Shea that evening. As a New Yorker, he has no reason to root for the Red Sox except that that franchise's creative fatalism mirrors his own. As a scribe, he has no reason to doubt the fortunes of his play except that from his marriage to his relationship with his daughter, undermining the good things in his life is what he does.
With DeLillo making his presence felt, "Game 6" is a lyrical piece, more invested with dramatic structure and figurative imagery than plot. The story takes place over one day as Nicky takes the journey from his apartment to his premiere in a series of cabs. Wherever he goes, he meets familiar faces from his past -- an old writing mentor (the loopy Griffin Dunne) or his daughter (Ari Graynor), for example -- and his tension and paranoia increase. His mental haze is echoed by a mysterious cloud of asbestos that covers a city block and by the parasites infecting his leading man's (a heartbreaking Harris Yulin) brain causing him to forget his lines. DeLillo's dialogue is semantically light and comic at times, but it carries philosophical weight.
There's sufficient whimsy to the piece that Keaton's role has to ground the drama, particularly with Downey going endearing over-the-edge with tics and mannerisms. Keaton, who has spent much of the past decade being misused in films, gets better as Nicky's sanity gets more precarious. In addition to Yulin and Dunne, Bebe Neuwirth, Shalom Harlow, Roger Rees and Catherine O'Hara all make strong impressions with minimal screentime.
As a Red Sox fan and a writer, "Game 6" spoke to me. Other viewers, audience members without interest in baseball, DeLillo or criticism, may feel that the movie is just a short trip to nowhere, an 83-minute diversion and little more. For me, the movie traveled to a place that felt emotionally true.