The trade embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba has long been a source of international attention for its harmful effects on the Cuban people and economy. While its restrictions are superficially related to commerce between the two nations, its ramifications permeate throughout various aspects of Cuban life. Sami Khan and Michael Gassert’s affecting new documentary The Last Out explores one such consequence of the embargo, following three Cuban baseball players striving to achieve their dream of playing Major League Baseball.
We meet the players – Happy Oliveros, Carlos González and Victor Baró – not in Cuba, but Costa Rica. Many miles away from home, they have traveled to this foreign land in order to establish non-Cuban residency to qualify for the Major League. There, they take part in a special camp sponsored by an opportunistic agent named Gus Dominguez, who provides them with accommodation, food and training. Gus promises that they will be able to secure an MLB contract worth millions. But as the months go by, their big dreams seem increasingly unachievable as they struggle to make a deal.
Taking audiences on an eventful journey, The Last Out is an eye-opening example of the intersection of sports, geopolitics and individual liberty. As we watch these dedicated athletes pursue their dreams in Cuba and beyond, the high stakes are immediately felt. While we are initially inspired by their training scenes, that optimism soon turns to trepidation upon learning of the low percentage of similarly defected Cubans who have successfully made it.
These dim prospects therefore make the exploitative relationship between Gus and the players all the more troubling. While the film smartly allows him to defend his perspective – including a previous prison sentence for smuggling – his greed is evident to anyone looking in from the outside. And as Khan and Gassert juxtapose his comfortable Los Angeles life with the bare minimum afforded to his players, it is clear who is the villain of the story.
As the camp begins to resemble a scam operation for both players and viewers alike, The Last Out becomes even more compelling as the trajectories of all three men subsequently diverge. In particular, Happy’s undying determination to reach America is impressively documented throughout his tense border crossings and touching moments of vulnerability. With the odds stacked heavily against him, Happy’s passion is therefore both inspiring and disheartening. Ultimately, as their lives take unexpected turns by the film’s end, Happy and his compatriots give credence to the proverb that “the grass is always greener on the other side.”