#118 The Natural
(1984, Barry Levinson)
“There goes Roy Hobbs, best there ever was”
I’m not a fan of sports. It doesn’t matter what it is, since I have consistently failed to engage with anything sports-related as viewing entertainment. So naturally, I had very little enthusiasm for The Natural, since not only is it about sport, it’s about a sport that isn’t particularly popular in the UK.
Robert Redford stars as Roy Hobbs, a talented baseball player who gets shot before he gets his chance to enter the major leagues, spoiling his chance to live out his dream. But then, sixteen years later, he turns up as a new signing for the ailing New York Knights team. He proves to them that he still has the skills from his youth and leads them to glory, but there are forces working to end his dream again.
So it’s a film about baseball then. Did it win me over? Well, let’s find out.
In terms of what I liked about the movie, I recognised the talent of the actors here, all of them working to the best of their ability. But then again, with the talents of Redford, Glenn Close and Robert Duvall on show, it’s to be expected. I was also highly intrigued by the shooting that puts Hobbs out of action. In fact, to be honest, I want a movie about the woman responsible more than this one.
You see, The Natural is one of the most clichéd movies I’ve ever seen. I directed a similar comment at Independence Day, but at least that had aliens and explosions to stimulate the childish part of my brain. The Natural, of course, only has baseball. Please refer to my first paragraph regarding my attitude to sport.
How clichéd are we talking here? Well, let’s just say that I was constantly predicting what was going to happen next, and my predictions were always accurate. Idyllic opening scenes will end in tragedy? Why yes, Hobbs’ father dies from a lightning strike! Hobbs will easily win over the sceptical talent scouts for the Cubs? You know it! Due to the reluctance of the Knights to put an inexperienced older player into the game, his big break comes when someone is injured and they have no one else to take the place? Why yes! The alluring woman played by Kim Basinger turns out to be working with the corrupt media moguls to bring him down? How did you guess? And so on. I could be here all day.
In fact, the only scene I failed to predict was the shooting. That may be why I was genuinely interested in it, because it was the only thing I didn’t see coming a mile away. Who is this woman? Why is she shooting sportspeople? Never mind that, here’s a sports montage!
Oh yes, the ultimate cliché – the sports montage – is here too, in every possible form. The team losing over the course of a season. The team winning when they pin lightning badges to themselves (yes, really) while Hobbs leads the charge. The team losing when Hobbs is distracted by Basinger. And so on. For eternity.
Also, in relation to that lightning badge thing, that was another thing that seriously bugged me about the movie. There was an ever-present sense that Hobbs seemed to have some supernatural baseball talent. His childhood bat, carved from the wood of a lightning-struck tree, seems incapable of missing a ball. Lightning patches help the team start winning. At one point, Hobbs hits a ball right into lightning, ripping the cover clean off. If it was meant to be symbolism, I’m afraid it was lost on me. To me, it was just downright silly.
Like I said, the actors did a good job with what they had to work with, but overall the movie was a cheesy, clichéd and ultimately boring mess. I didn’t like Hobbs as a character and I felt no tension from the utterly predictable plot.
So instead, how about a sequel from the perspective of Hobbs’ shooter? Now that I’d watch
Starring Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall & Kim Basinger
Written by Bernard Malamud (novel) and Roger Towne & Phil Dusenberry
Produced by Mark Johnson
Music by Randy Newman
Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel
Edited by Stu Linder
Favourite Scene: The shooting. The single most interesting bit of the movie, and it’s relegated to back story.
Scene That Bugged Me: Hobbs causes a ball to be struck by lightning. I can suspend my disbelief quite well, but for that I just couldn’t. Sorry
Watch it if: You like baseball, I guess
Avoid it if: Magical sportsmen just seem a tad silly to you