Pleasant? No. But the new biographical film "Cobb," about baseball great Ty Cobb, is certainly engrossing - primarily due to a smashing lead performance by Tommy Lee Jones.

Jones gives the role his all, which is considerable, and literally carries the film on his back as he demonstrates the former Detroit Tiger great's talent for alienating just about everyone he knows while remaining a sports legend. In fact, it's hard to think of another true-life biography that paints its lead character as such an ogre.And as for all those negative stories you've heard about Cobb, his climbing into the stands to pummel a heckler who has no arms, his wife-beating, his drinking binges, his racism, his foul mouth - they're all here in spades.

The film spins off of a clever premise as California sportswriter Al Stump (Robert Wuhl) is hired by Cobb in 1960 to write his biography. Cobb is insistent that the book be a whitewash, that it portray the ballplayer as a heroic sweetheart. But Stump, who is naturally quite intimidated by the man, agrees with his fingers crossed.

When they first meet, Stump is greeted by a drunken, pill-popping 73-year-old Cobb who wildly wields a pistol while he explains to the writer how things are going to be. Of course Stump agrees to do things Cobb's way - what else is he going to do with a handgun pointed in his face? But at the same time, Stump keeps a stash of notes about the horrible truths of Cobb's life - to include his own experiences - for the more truthful book he plans to write later. (In real life, it's taken Stump some 35 years to do so - the book was published in conjunction with the film's initial release late last year.)

With the "Cobb" told from Stump's perspective, we have a solid point of view, and while one could argue that there is perhaps a bit too much of Stump at the expense of Cobb, for the most part the ploy works quite well.

The movie is composed of sequences that have Stump catering to Cobb's whims as they travel to Reno (where, in one of the film's most disturbing moments, Cobb attempts to rape a cigarette girl who has eyes for Stump, played by Lolita Davidovich), attend a Baseball Hall of Fame tribute to Cobb (where he sees his own sins revealed in his mind as a documentary film builds him up as a hero) and to his hometown in Georgia (where he must confront old ghosts).

Each of these sequences is laced liberally with unsavory flashbacks, including a troubling but important revelation about the killing of Cobb's father, which unravels in murder-mystery fashion over the course of the film. Whether it answers any questions about why Cobb is such a jerk is up for debate. "I'm bigger than that," Cobb himself says.

The biggest surprise in "Cobb" is how little it has to do with baseball. This is truly a film about a man, not a sport. And writer-director Ron Shelton ("Bull Durham," "White Men Can't Jump") is more interested in exploring America's fascination with celebrityhood, how we tend to put those who excel in sports (or as actors or models or whatever) on pedestals, regardless of whether they are actually worthy of our adoration.

To that end, "Cobb" is even more engrossing. And the celebrity here who is playing the celebrity of the title - Tommy Lee Jones - was robbed by not being acknowledged by the Oscar nominations. If there was an Oscar-worthy performance among last year's movies, this is it.

"Cobb" is rated R for considerable profanity and vulgarity, a fair amount of violence, an attempted rape and nudity.