BASN Movie Reviews: ‘The Bronx Is Burning’

By Tony McClean
Updated: July 8, 2007
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — In the summer of 1977, New York City was in the grips of a heated mayoral race, the “Son of Sam” murders, declining neighborhoods, and the backlash of statewide fiscal crisis.

However during all of this time, the one thing that may have been hotter than all of these things may have been the locker room of the New York Yankees. As history will attest, the Bronx Bombers of that era battled on and off the field several times during that long, hot summer.

Beginning Monday night following coverage of the Home Run Derby, ESPN begins an eight-part miniseries entitled “The Bronx Is Burning”, based on Jonathan Mahler’s 2005 book. The series, which will be shown weekly, takes a look back at a time that longtime Yankee fans can readily remember.

It will also give younger Yankee fans an historical and not too flattering look at the clubhouse dynamics of the Bronx Bombers. Given the fact that former Yankee captain Graig Nettles and former Newsday columnist Steve Jacobson were used as consultants, the film’s authenticity doesn’t seem to be compromised.

While most early reviews of “Bronx” by TV movie critics have been mixed, ESPN’s production isn’t just another sports movie. In fact, the turmoil in the Yankees’ clubhouse is just one of the many varying backdrops to the “Summer of ’77″.

In some fashion, “Bronx” is a reminiscent to Spike Lee’s “Summer Of Sam” movie from 1999. While Lee’s film focused more on the “Son of Sam” murders, the major difference, of course, is the sports angle.

At the beginning of the 1977 season, the Yankees are coming off their first AL pennant since 1964. But the spectre of their four-game sweep at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds has owner George Steinbrenner seething.

Steinbrenner (played by Oliver Platt), in his lust to bring a World Championship to New York, decides to sign the biggest free agent during the off-season in Reggie Jackson (portrayed by Daniel Sunjata) despite several objections within Yankeeland.

The loudest objection comes from manager Billy Martin (played by John Turturro) who doesn’t think the flamboyant Jackson fits the “Yankee mold”. There in lies one of the several “perfect storms” that existed in the lockeroom and within the city as a whole that season.

Platt, Sunjata, and Turturro are all very believable in their roles. However, Turturro is the clear standout as the combustible Yankee manager. From his jug-like ears to his quick temper, Turturro literally evolves into becoming the living embodiment of Billy Martin. It’s like watching Denzel Washington become Malcolm X in less the time.

Several critics have been less than flattering of Sunjata’s performance as Reggie Jackson. While Sunjata may not match Mr. October’s physical built, he more than makes up for it with his portrayal of Reggie’s complex character.

Even though you know how the movie ends, “Bronx” is an interesting and very entertaining movie. It also shows that despite their seeming obsession to try and make hot dog eating a sport, ESPN can still put together a decent sports-oriented program.

If you’re a Yankee fan, you will enjoy this movie because of its nostalgia and it gets your mind off of this year’s struggling bunch. If you’re a Yankee hater, “Bronx” may just be another in the long list of reasons why you hated them in the first place.

Either way, this is a pretty good movie/miniseries to watch.