Review: Clemente | DIFF 2024

Score: B+

Director: David Altrogge

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rated: NR

Clemente is one of few positive documentaries you'll see this year. While the great right fielder did die young, this is not a deep dive in to the preventable tragedy that killed him. Nor is it an exposé on his hidden side. No, this is the rare true story about a man being great on and off the field. And in a time where every athlete, actor, musician and politician is bound to disappoint, it's a great reminder that he was one of one.

If you've read David Maraniss's essential biography or seen the PBS American Experience episode, there's little here that will be new to you. But if you're a casual baseball fan - or just trying to get someone into the sport - this is a terrific starting point. The doc covers all the basics of Roberto Clemente's rise from a poor area of Puerto Rico to superstardom. But it's hardly tidy summation that paints a rosy picture of his life.

A good chunk of the film focuses on - but doesn't belabor - Clemente's struggles against racism. From baseball cards calling him "Bob" to sportswriters exaggerating his accent to the hatred he experienced from both white people (for being Black) and Black people (for being Latino). All of it was heinous but culturally accepted at the time. And while he carried it with grace - and a knife in case things got violent - he still boldly pushed for civil rights. Hearing him speak in archival footage, it's clear he would still inspire vitriol from white fans.

But while he was a two-time champion, regular season and World Series MVP, and Hall of Famer, he was arguably even more devoted to his wife and three sons. And his passion for baseball was only dwarfed by his passion for Puerto Rico. He would regularly hold clinics for local children - free of charge - and not just for photo ops. He really cared about the sport and the people, hoping to instill the fundamentals of the game, even if they would never achieve his level of fame.

Unlike its subject, there is nothing revolutionary or special about Clemente. It's just a solidly done sports doc. When your focus is someone this larger-than-life, that's all you need.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.