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STUDIO: Tri Star
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 144 Minutes
• Video Introduction by Barry Levinson
• Three-part Making of Documentary
• Clubhouse Conversations
• The Natural Gunned Down: The Stalking of Eddie Waitkus
• Knights in Shining Armor: The Mythology of The Natural
• Extra Innings
• The Heart of The Natural
Baseball + Robert Redford + An awesome supporting cast = Classic.
Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Darren McGavin, Robert Prosky, Richard Farnsworth, Michael Madsen, Joe Don Baker.
Roy Hobbs is a man born to play the game of baseball. He practiced his whole life to get to the majors and when he finally gets his chance, he is shot with a silver bullet by a mysterious woman in black (Barbara Hershey). Now, sixteen years later, Roy must prove to his coaches and to players half his age that he’s got what it takes. On his slow climb back to the top, he’ll have to face his inner demons, the demons who want him to stay at the bottom of the ladder, the man who uncovers his dark past, and the women who want him in their lives.
Redford’s tendency to run straight at the ball like a mad bull was frowned upon.
The mythical story of Roy Hobbs begins where every other story of a born-to-play-the-game begins: playing catch with his father. In the newly expanded opening, where the majority of the added minutes are placed, Roy’s father teaches him how to pitch and hit, while imparting some lessons that (of course) pertain not only to baseball, but also to life. Of course, they’re lessons about baseball, but anyone worth their bat and balls knows that lessons in baseball are lessons in life. The opening scene with Roy also show us the origins of the much talked about baseball bat later on in the film. During a heavy storm, a lightning bolt hits a tree in his backyard, splitting it three ways. Roy takes one of the pieces from the tree, shaves it down and smoothes it out until it is the perfect weapon to rip the cover off of a baseball. He burns a lightning bolt and a single word into the bat: Wonderboy.
Robert Redford is a classic. I don’t think there’s much use in denying this. From Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, to The Sting, to All the President’s Men, to The Natural, he’s always played his characters with an abundance of charm, strength, curiosity, a hint of naiveté, and just below the surface: a simmering darkness. That darkness is on display in this, as he plays Roy as a man haunted by his past. A solemn drifter who is wary of the company he keeps, has a keen sense of who is worthwhile and who he should keep at arm’s length.
"This one’s for Mitchell."
The supporting cast are no slouches, either. Robert Duvall plays Max Mercy, a sports writer and cartoonist for the newspaper who recognizes Roy and tries to exploit his dark past. Glenn Close plays Iris Gaines, Roy’s childhood sweetheart who returns to his life right when he needs it.
Kim Basinger plays Memo Paris, a sumptuous blonde bombshell who takes Roy back down a dark path when he was so close to seeing the light. She works for the dual devil figures Darren McGavin (uncredited) as Gus Sands, and Robert Prosky as The Judge. McGavin steals every scene he’s in, aided by a glass eye and seemingly psychic abilities. The Judge is a man who stays in his dark office above the stadium, decked out in a white suit, chewing on cigars, and waxing prophetic.
And of course, Wilford Brimley as Pop Fisher. He’s the down on his luck coach for the New York Knights, who only sees the worst in Roy until he sees him slam a baseball into the bleachers during batting practice.
"I’m only gonna tell you this one more time. I’M NOT. GONNA. HURT ANYBODY."
Barry Levinson hasn’t been on his A-Game in a long time, his last truly good film probably being 1997’s Wag the Dog. With The Natural, Levinson has created a beautiful film, along with his cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. Light, or the lack there of, is used to great effect, either bathing a scene in golden light, or a quiet scene on the beach, illuminating Kim Basinger’s scrumptious figure. The musical score by Pixar-friend Randy Newman is also timeless, punching up (shamelessly) the emotional impact of the grand stadium sequences. The stadium sequences are handled remarkably well by Levinson considering this was only his second feature film. The action is shot with a steady hand, nothing too bombastic, allowing the viewer to know what is happening and who is on base at all times.
What the hell is my line….what the hell is my line…Levinson knows I can’t
concentrate when I’m seven inches away from a tall glass of refreshing lemonade.
The magic of The Natural comes from its simple, old fashioned storytelling. Adapted from the book of the same name by Bernard Malamud, the story and characters are elevated to mythic stature. Roy is more then just a baseball player, he’s a modern day King Arthur, which I guess makes Wilford Brimley his Merlin. A story like this fits perfectly within the sport of baseball. A simple sport on the surface, but beneath the surface is awash in character, nuance, and mental combat between players that can last for seasons.
There are over two hours of bonus features on the second disc. All of them are worth taking a look at. The Making Of documentary is a fascinating look into the genesis of the project and how long it too to bring to the screen. My favorite moment is finding out that one of the scenes was rewritten on set that day on a roll of toilet paper. Other features include the life story of Eddie Waitkus, one of the men that Roy Hobbs is based on. There is also a lengthy feature hosted by Cal Ripken Jr., who talks about The Natural, but also about baseball, his life, and how he’s changed since the beginning of his career.
9.5 out of 10