A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Natural

April 2, 2011

The Natural

For the start of the baseball season we’ve decided to watch some baseball movies. Amanda and I are not sports fans. We never watch sports games or root for any of the local sports teams. We do, however, own a few Baseball movies. I’m not altogether sure why. I suppose it’s just a simple game, and it has a certain charm to it. There’s a fun, corny, American joy to a good baseball movie. This, here, is the corniest, simplest, most quintessentially American of all baseball movies. From the slow-motion scenes of young Roy Hobbs catching baseballs in an undulating field of wheat to Randy Newman’s iconic score this movie lets you know just exactly what it is.

Amanda had never seen this movie before tonight and she wasn’t really into it tonight. The movie is too slow for her. On the other hand, there are so many infamous moments in this film – maybe after tonight she’ll get some of the references to this film in pop culture, from the Simpsons to the constant use of the score in previews to this very day.

I’ll agree with Amanda that the movie is slow. Nor is it particularly subtle. Barry Levinson directs the movie with all the gentle subtlety of a sledgehammer. It features things like having the evil Judge ensconced in his dark office or Glenn Close as Iris standing in a crowd with her translucent white hat basked in soft light. This is a simple movie about good and evil that wears its heart on its sleeve.

Roy Hobbs is The Natural. He’s a simple farm boy who in his youth was the greatest pitcher who ever lived. He could have been the greatest baseball player of all time, but a serial killer shot him way back when and he was unable to play ball. For years. Until one day he shows up in the bullpen of a struggling major league team. He’s over the hill at this point. A mid-thirty year old rookie that everybody, including the crooked scout who sent him up to the big leagues, thinks is a joke.

Of course when he finally gets up to bat it becomes clear that he is not a joke. He is a born ball player who lives only for the game. He’s an upright fellow who just wants to play ball, and he finds himself embroiled in an epic clash between good and evil. On the side of good there’s that kind-hearted codger who I know best as Noah from the second Ewok movie but everybody else knows from Cocoon or from the old Quaker Oats commercials. Wilford Brimley is Pops, the fairly ineffectual but completely affable manager of the New York Knights. His right hand man, Red, played by Richard Farnsworth, explains to Roy that Pops has put his heart and soul into the game, but he’s had to sell a controlling share of the Knights to a sinister man known only as the Judge. There’s a way out though. If the Knights win the pennant (which is some kind of base ball thing I guess) then Pops gets his shares back and the Judge is out. So of course the Judge is doing everything in his power to ruin the Knights. He is paying players left and right to throw games. He has a crooked newspaper man who digs up dirt for blackmail. He’s in cahoots with a nasty bookie (played with mad-eyed flare by an un-credited Darren McGavin.) There’s even a social-climbing femme fatal who has a bit of a crush on Roy but is trying to seduce him into losing.

To combat all the temptations thrown in Roy’s way there is his long-lost childhood girlfriend Iris, played in constant soft focus and awash in white light by Glenn Close, who simply by her presence inspires him to reach for his boyhood dreams of baseball superstardom. Sadly she doesn’t have much to do besides look wistful, but she’s very good at it.

It’s a simple fairy story about temptation, good versus evil, and striving against odds to achieve your dreams. It has a mytical, legendary feel to it, which is why I don’t particularly mind that it is so blatant in its direction or so over-the-top in its rousing conclusion. Robert Redford, who was fifty-one years old when the movie came out, plays Roy with both a world weary sense of fatality and a youthful wistfulness. His craggy visage clearly shows a character with a tortured past, but here he is re-discovering his true purpose in life and accepting his destiny.

This movie is iconic. Sure it’s slow. Sure it’s corny. Sure it drives its message home with brutal force. But, oh that score, and oh those visuals. Sometimes you need a simple tale like this. It was a pleasure to watch it again tonight.

April 2, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. And of course Joe Don Baker at the peak of his career.

    Comment by Doc Wheat | April 3, 2011 | Reply

    • I thought the peak of his career was as Jack Wade in Goldeneye? Regardless we did end up watching Mitchell again last night.

      Comment by tanatoes | April 3, 2011 | Reply


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