The Natural

With the World Series in progress, we decided to go baseball themed with The Natural. Released in 1984, Barry Levinson’s film stars Robert Redford, Glenn Close, and Robert Duvall. It is rated PG for some violence.

The Natural tells the story of Roy Hobbs (Redford), a man with a cloudy past and a passionate love for the game of baseball. Hobbs, after almost 20 years since setting out to play professional baseball, comes out of nowhere and joins the pitiful New York Knights, taking the team from perennial losers to a more than respectable team. His unbelievable, yet mysterious run draws the attention of many, including sportswriter Max Mercy (Duvall), who attempts to uncover Hobbs’ secret. Meanwhile, Hobbs relives the fame he once sought out before being inexplicably shot by a young woman, while also struggling to deal with these memories.

7.0 out of 10

I am a huge sports fan. More specifically, I am a huge baseball fan (Go Yanks!). Despite this, I would be lying if I told you my favorite movie genre was the sports genre. For some reason, these movies never seem to satisfy me. They always seem to be boring and uninteresting. However, there is always the occasional exception (Rocky, Moneyball, Raging Bull-if that counts). For me, The Natural categorizes itself in between the classics and the disappointments.

1980’s cinematography has a more authentic feel to it. It had advanced greatly since the days of black and white, prominent just 30 years prior, but isn’t nearly as flashy as the 3D, Imax kind of stuff we have today. It’s really very simple, and this gave movies a sense of nostalgia and authenticity that is especially relevant in this film. The movie takes place in the 1920’s, so the language, the costumes, and the general feel of the time period are extremely important for the audience to get a grasp of. I think that the movie did a good job of doing just that.

The costumes have a great 20’s feel to it, from the baggy uniforms to the sleak suits. The language is very old, allowing the characters to sound like they should. And the aforementioned cinematography is luscious  and brings out certain aspects of the era that make the viewer feel the 1920’s. This was one of the more respectable aspects of the movie: the fact that I was able to feel the time period. I was able to connect with Roy Hobbs and the period he was living in, even though I live in a completely different era.

The actors’ performances are all pretty good. Glenn Close was pretty good as Hobbs’ childhood friend Iris (even if her character was really terribly utilized). Robert Redford and Robert Duvall were both good as Hobbs and Mercy, respectively. Nothing special, just good.

But that’s why I wouldn’t consider this film great. It’s nothing special, just good. The acting is just good, the script is just good, the storytelling is just good. There wasn’t anything that stood out to me. No acting performance of a lifetime, no memorable quote. Maybe the scene where Roy literally hits the cover of the baseball, but other than that, the movie just isn’t memorable enough.

And let me get back to Glenn Close’s character. She isn’t introduced at all, she appears about three quarters of the way through the movie, we have no idea who she is, yet she turns out to be extremely important. It comes off as a desperate attempt by the writers to solve the slump they decided to put Hobbs in. It was little things like this that prevented this film from being great. It had the tendency to be very predictable at moments (spoiler)– Hobbs’ homer at the end, Iris’ son being Hobbs’ child– which got kind of irritating. And considering baseball is the most unpredictable sport out there, is predictability appropriate?

The reason many find this film to be a classic is the nostalgia and antique feel it brings surrounding the fantastic game of baseball, which it does do well. It’s far (FAR) from perfect, and it’s plagued by practicability and a lack of a standout moment. In the end, this film is a well hit, but doesn’t quite reach the fence (as cheesy as that sounds).

8.5 out of 10

I’ll start off with a few informal notes since I am a baseball fan.

GO RED SOX! Ok start, but it’s still early!

So, when I think of the Red Sox, I also think of my favorite player in history Teddy Ballgame. Ted Williams and I always loved the scene with Roy choosing number 9 as his in (What I always saw as) a tribute to the greatest hitter who ever lived.

There, that was a segway, right? So this is not real a review for me, it’s a tribute. I remember my sport-obsessed cousins having a case for their VHS tapes packed with sports movies. Every time I took a look at that case when I was a kid, I was admittedly envious. I’d mentally take notes of titles like The Sandlot, Angles in the Outfield and The Mighty Ducks just so I could them from (Another ancient artifact) Blockbuster later.

And, upon my first viewing at 11, I loved The Natural. Sports movies are, in general, about as safe as they come. I have mentioned this before. A regular guy is set up. He’s good at something. He’s noticed. He wins some. He loses some. But he wins it all in the end. But I love sports movies BECAUSE they are safe. Because I often know what to expect from them and its a win/win. If the main character (s) win, I’m satisfied. If he loses, I’m surprised. It doesn’t get much safer than that for Hollywood.

And The Natural’s no different really. Except it has one thing that those other sports movies do not have. Robert Redford. Redford is the centerpiece in this classic film. He is the classic everyman and hero that the story really requires. The story, in and of itself, is just a modern legend. It’s the definitive baseball narrative nowadays. Like Roger Ebert once said, it’s not what it’s about, it’s how it’s about it. Meaning that I have kind of accepted that sports as a genre is kind of spinning its wheels but that does not stop its movies from executing their stories very well.

roy hobbs

Robert Redford is that execution. He supplies the classic lead needed to be that execution. I have heard that he prepared thoroughly for this role by watching dozens of games and scores of footage in order to look genuine, not like an actor playing one. That shows here. I often find myself feeling whatever he feels along with him. I feel when he rises and I feel when he thinks that he has wasted his potential.

But everyone can attest to feeling that home run. That penultimate scene. How glorious is it when those sparks are flying while Roy rounds those bases, realizing his dreams and accomplishments? Pretty damn glorious. Although the original story ends with him striking out, I don’t really take a side as to which one is better because both work with his story. One has him with humility and one with victory. Both actually work fine by me. But, in the case of the film, nothing beats his final game. Nothing.

IMDB: 7.6
Metacritic: —
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%