“The Natural” (1984)
Running Time: 138 minutes
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Featuring: Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Kim Basinger, Barbara Hershey and Wilford Brimley
Pop Fisher: “You know my mama wanted me to be a farmer.”
Roy Hobbs: “My dad wanted me to be a baseball player.”
Pop Fisher: “Well you’re better than any player I ever had. And you’re the best God damn hitter I ever saw. Suit up.”
In 1923, a 19-year-old Hobbs is on his way to Chicago to try out for the Chicago Cubs as a pitcher. Along the way, Hobbs encounters Harriet Bird, an alluring woman, who becomes fixated with him. Bird lures Hobbs to her hotel room, shoots him, then commits suicide. It is revealed that Bird kills rising athletes, having already murdered two others.
Skip to 1939. The New York Knights sign the now 35-year-old Hobbs to a contract, to the ire of the team’s manager and co-owner, Pop Fisher. With the Knights mired in last-place, Pop is angry over being saddled with a “middle-aged” rookie.
The film is primarily a tale of lust, crime, original characters and baseball. It is not sentimental and takes itself quite seriously at times. It is fun seeing the ins and outs of a baseball team almost a hundred years ago – things have not changed much, there is still tension between the owners and the players – the money at stake has increased of course. There are metaphors that represent the journey of life and family as well as what is important to the central characters – this has become quite standard for sports films as well as the overcoming of odds to fulfil dreams.
It is ably directed by Barry Levinson, who at the time had only directed the drama “Diner” (1982), which had placed him on the map, and this film would mark the second of nine films he would make in the 1980s, it would place him on the map as one of the best directors of the past thirty years – he would an Oscar for directing the hit “Rain Man” (1988) – which would also nab star Dustin Hoffman an Oscar as well.
The real star here is of course Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs, who had not acted in a film for four years, but had won an Oscar for directing “Ordinary People” (1980), so this was a welcome return to the big screen and a sizeable hit for him. The supporting cast is huge and Kim Basinger turns up as a love interest but the part is not great although she was starting to make a name for herself in the movies, having been a staple on US TV since the mid 1970s.
“The Natural” is a very long film and it feels it, mainly because of the a sub plot concerning game fixing and gambling which while accurate for the day feels dated and better handled in other films – it seems shoe horned into a story that feels like it should be more personable and dare I say it nostalgic – before tehnology started to enter society in a large way and baseball saw its first real erosion of the public to the game.
I do recommend this as well as looking at the directors cut which Levisnon released in the mid 2000s – it gives a little more insight into the earlier life of Hobbs and may even out the story just a little.
- Includes directors cut as well as theatrical cut;
- Featurette “The Heart of the Natural,” a 44-minute documentary featuring comments from Cal Ripken, Jr. and Levinson;
- “When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural,” a 50-minute documentary discussing the origins of the original novel and the production of the film;
- “Knights in Shining Armor,” which addresses the mythological parallels between The Natural, King Arthur and the Odyssey; and “A Natural Gunned Down” which tells the story of Eddie Waitkus, a baseball player who was shot by Ruth Ann Steinhagen, a female stalker, in an incident which inspired the fictionalized shooting of Roy Hobbs.