The Natural (1984) – Barry Levinson

Barry Levinson and Robert Redford deliver one of the all time great baseball fairytales with their adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s stirring novel of the same name. Set in a gloriously rendered version of yesteryear, the film follows Roy Hobbs (Redford) the best ball player that ever was.

The film gives us this hazy beautiful look at the eternal summer of baseball, and how one man is ripped away from it just as he is called up by the Cubs. He, for all intents and purposes, vanishes from the lives of those he knows, particularly the love of his life, Iris (Glenn Close).

Sixteen years later, no longer a young man, he shows up in New York, newly scouted and signed to the Knights, much to the chagrin of Pops (Wilford Brimley), who initially refuses to play him. But with their losing streak, and the pennant get further and further out of reach, what does he have to lose, especially after he sees Hobbs hit?

But there are dark forces arrayed against the ball club, and you can always tell there is going to be trouble by those who show up dressed in black, or hide in the shadows. The Judge (Robert Prosky) is intent on taking over the club completely, if the Knights don’t get near the pennant, Pops is out, and the Judge gains complete control.

The Judge has the help of Gus (Darren McGavin) and Memo (Kim Bassinger) to help him, but Roy has the love of the sport, the inspiration he gives to the fans, and the sound of his bat, Wonderboy, cracking a homer.

It’s schmaltzy, and at the same time, wonderfully rousing. On top of that, it looks beautiful, the framing, lighting, cinematography make Levinson’s film simply lovely to look at.

It’s also a stacked cast, and you can see Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Michael Madsen, Richard Farnsworth, and Joe Don Baker, all turning in moments that help define the film, but it all rests easily on Redford’s shoulders, and he brings the fictional creation of Roy to resounding emotional life as the character goes on the journey of his life, even if it wasn’t the way he thought it was going to be.

Adding to the film is the now iconic score by Randy Newman, which, even if you have never seen the film, you’ll recognize because it’s been used constantly in trailers, and advertisements, and is practically part of the cinematic subconcious.

I do love a good baseball movie, and despite the fact that my partner said this one was kind of cheesy, it’s good, oh so good cheese. Redford has always been a favorite actor of mine, and this one is just such a joyful film to lose yourself in.

Batter up!

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