The Natural (1984)
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I know much has been made about Redford being too old to play Roy Hobbs. But much of the story asks you to believe in incredible things, so to me, this is a minor issue.
Everything about this movie is first rate. The cast which includes Redford, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley and a pair of terrific performances turned in by Robert Duval and Darren McGavin.
It is easy to see that all of the actors trust the material and believe in their characters.
Barry Levinson tells the story in a straight forward style, he doesn't try to build any false suspense or surprise twists. When you watch this movie you know exactly what is going to happen long before it does, but you don't care, because it unfolds intelligently and without pretense.
My two favorite components of this movie are the cinematography by Caleb Deschanel and the beautiful, moving score composed by Randy Newman. I first enjoyed Mr. Deschanel's work on "Being There", and felt Mr. Newman's score for "Ragtime" was the best score of 1981.
"The Natural" is so much more than a baseball movie. It is a story about faith, good and evil, right and wrong, fathers and sons. It is about all that is good in baseball and in life.
10 out of 10
Granted, I am a little biased in my review since the movie was made in the area in which grew up. Having made many trips to the ballpark in which the movie was filmed, and to the old-fashioned soda shoppe where Robert Redford and Glenn Close re-unite, this movie was special to all of us in Western New York. It always a kick, too, (and a bit odd) to watch the final scene since the opposing pitcher is a personal friend.
I think I would have loved this movie regardless of the "home-field advantage." It's an interesting, involving story that has you really rooting for Redford's character. To have actors like Close, Robert Duvall, Richard Farnsworth, Kim Basinger, Wilfred Brimley, Darren McGavin, Barabara Hershey, Robert Prosky, Joe Don Baker and others in the "lineup" doesn't hurt, either!
The cinematography is beautiful, too. That was something I never really appreciated until after several viewings. There are some wonderfully subdued brown and golden hues in here. This is very pretty motion picture.
All the characters - the good and the bad, and there are plenty of both - are fascinating. It's also nice to see an actor in a baseball film that actually knows how to throw, hit and field a baseball. This is a great, old-fashioned storytelling.
Malamud was a great writer, and was best known for winning a Pulitzer and the National Book award for The Fixer. His award winning work usually dealt with themes closer to his own heart, and Malamud didn't seem to "get" baseball in this book. Either that, or he had some axe to grind about baseball, and wanted us to hate it and all the people involved in it.
The Natural was Malamud's first novel and, as such, it suffers from shallow, simplistic characters, a muddy, at times almost unintelligible plot, and poorly attenuated subplots that almost seem like afterthoughts or clumsy devices slathered on to shore up weak story objectives. He does, however, have a historical understanding of baseball, and most of the events related to baseball in this story are composites of everything from the Black Sox to Babe Ruth to Christie Matheson and a string of other legends.
The main character, Roy Hobbs, is almost certainly based on the real life character Eddie Waitkus, and Malamud does little to imbue him with likable traits that would deepen him as a literary character. He even throws in a little Joe Jackson to compromise the character even further. The fact that he is called "Roy" is an obvious allusion to Sir Thomas Malory's 15th century opus "Le Morte D'Arthur." (Recall that "roi" is French for "king.") Why Malamud chose this story as a model is a mystery, since although he goes to great lengths to reinforce the Aurthurian connection (the baseball team is called the "Knights", the bat, "Wonderboy" is obviously "Excalibur"), he creates little of the Arthurian heroism in Roy Hobbes, or, for that matter, the sport of baseball as an allegory for the jousting of Chivalric heroes.
The character of The Whammer, played in the movie beautifully, if all too briefly, by Joe Don Baker, is more Ruth than Ruth, but he's gone in a flash, leaving yet another heroic void in the original story. And the women in The Natural are shallow, conniving and cheap and I have never been able to understand Malamud's literary allusions with regard to Morgan LeFave and Guinnevere, the women in Arthur's life. The Bad Guys in the book are ALL Bad, everyone else is mostly neutral, and there isn't any real good, or anything uplifting or affirming or positive in the whole thing.
Thank god for the movie. Barry Levinson's direction is gilded and glowing, and the whole film has a luminous aura that seems magical and enchanted and, compared to the wooden novel from which it came, a satisfying recast of the Arthurian legend. The screenplay was done by Roger Towne, who recently gave us The Recruit, and the changes he made to the story make all the difference in the world; less literary, perhaps, but more beautiful and elegant and not nearly so cynical and pessimistic. Compared to the Levinson/Johnson magic, the novel is almost amateurish, and recalls Ayn Rand's facile characters and stories, didactic and pedantic, and almost completely obscuring the Arthurian magic that Levinson coaxes from the story.
Once, when I had the chance to mention personally to Mark Johnson how beautiful The Natural was, he responded with a sincere modesty that fit the innocent tone of the movie, and he even gave me a keepsake from the film that I have to this day as a reminder of just how amazing an achievement this movie was, coming from so flawed a novel.
This was the first movie in which I loved Redford. He was older and deeper as an actor, and this was the beginning of his real golden age. Glenn Close was delightfully virginal and beautiful as a character almost completely created by the screenwriter, not the novelist. Kim Basinger is gorgeous and dangerous as the femme fatal, a portrayal that she would echo in her Oscar winning turn in L.A. Confidential.
Randy Newman's brilliant score was recycled a dozen times in subsequent movies, but none captured the beauty and nostalgia of The Natural. There are only a handful of movies so magnificently driven by their score, and The Natural remains Newman's best and most satisfying work.
In short, this is the best baseball movie ever. Whereas Malamud wanted to show baseball as jaundiced and commercial, Towne's screenplay shows us the baseball we loved as kids, and more. Malamud's dark and wholly unsatisfying ending is also rewritten, and if you find the final scene a little sweet, ask yourself if you really wanted to see the dismal finale that Malamud supplied.
Redford is low-key and stoic, but he hits just the right note for the character. Everybody else, especially Robert Duvall and Wilford Brimley, are fantastic.
A touching story, without being hokey. You get the feeling you are watching something mystical and magical along with all the characters in the movie, and it is played with just the right note.
Thrilling and inspiring. A well-made, well-acted film.
And who could forget the soundtrack written by Randy Newman, which has found its way into virtually every sports show on the tube at one time or another. Without a doubt, his best handiwork.
With all of his hopes of becoming a major leaguer dashed and a faded memory at 19 Hobbs, 16 years later, now at the age of 35 is back from playing a year of semi-pro ball to play in the big leagues and see if he still has it as a middle-age rookie and if he can make the team. Playing anywhere he's needed, on the bottom-dwelling New York Knights, and hoping against hope that the manager Pop Fisher, William Brimley,will put him in the lineup. Pop does reluctantly only to find out that Roy was heaven sent to not only win the pennant for the Knights but to save him from being brought out by a bunch unscrupulous shysters and gangsters from his share of stock he has in the team.
At times corny but still very moving story that despite its unbelievable plot is based on a true story that's almost as incredible as the movie itself. On the evening of June 14, 1949 Phillie first baseman Eddie Waitkus was gunned down in his hotel room by a crazed female fan and admirer. Waitkus with a bullet in his gut was left almost bleeding to death with his future as a professional baseball player non-existent. In only a year Waitkus came back, literary from the dead, to guide the Phillie "Whiz Kids" to the 1950 National League pennant! The "Whiz Kids" Won it on the last day of the season, like Roy Hobbs' Knights did in the movie, against the heavily favored Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field.
A real crowd pleaser with Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs out to prove to himself, as well as the sports world, that he still has what it takes to be a professional baseball player and comes across his old girlfriend Iris, Glenn Close. Iris unknown to Roy had and is raising his 15 year-old son Ted, Robert Rich III.
The movie "The Natural" has Roy torn between sweet and caring Iris and party girl and gold-digger Memo Paris, Kim Basinger,who together with the sleazy owner of the Knights Judge Prosky and big time bookie and gangster Gus Sands, Darren McGavin, wants Roy to throw the final game with the Pittsburg Pirates. This in order to put out Pop and make a killing betting against the heavily favored Knights.
Playing his heart and guts out Roy's past injury comes back to not only haunt but possibly kill him as his stomach wound opens up causing him to miss three games that the Pirates won. With the pennant on the line Roy, despite orders from his doctor not to, returns for the final do or die game at Knights Stadium and ends it, and his career, with a hot and sizzling Forth of July explosion on a cool windy and lighting struck October evening.
Predictable but still heart-lifting and exciting movie "The Natural" ranks right up there with the best baseball, as well as sports, films ever made. "The Natural" both beautifully and touchingly shows how the human spirit can overcome every obstacle that's thrown in front of it, natural or man made, when it frees itself from all the fears and negativity that's around it.
We first see that Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) is a "natural" in baseball, grows up at age 20 to be a pitching phenom, and on a train stop as he was going forward with his dream of "I want to walk down the street and have people say 'he was the best ever'", in a dare and a bet he strikes out the "Whammer" (Babe Ruth?) in 3 pitches. A lady (Barbara Hershey) seems attracted to him, but when he restates that he only wants to "be recognized as the best ever", she shoots him, in the side, and we learn later that she threw herself off a high place onto the street below, dead. We find out much later that McGavin's character had lost $100,000 on that wager, "and I took care of him." Meaning, he was the one who hired the Hershey character to shoot Hobbs. Hobbs only realizes that at the finale, when he has to choose whether to try and win the game, or give in to McGavin's attempt to fix the game.
Meanwhile, back at the beginning, Hobbs was out of baseball 16 years, recovering from his gunshot, and dealing with his infatuation with the temptress known as "fame." He is recruited as a 35-yr-old rookie, almost never gets into a game, and finally using his bat carved from the old lightning-struck tree, becomes a batting phenom, the best hitter they ever saw. When he starts fooling around with temptress Kim Basinger, he suddenly cannot hit anymore. When he sees Glen Close again, he suddenly becomes a hitting machine again. He ultimately wins the big playoff game, sending the bad guys reeling.
At one point, Close's character tells Hobbs, "I believe we have two lives, the one we learn with, and the one we live with." Hobbs was a victim of the want of "fame", so much so it de-railed his career. Only after he learned to play baseball for the sheer enjoyment of it did he achieve the success he wanted, but "fame" was no longer a need. It is almost the same theme in "Big", where Hanks' character is a success because he remains a kid, enjoying what he is doing, while all the others just want to run a business and make a buck.
Good movie, Redford is always good. The baseball sequences are fairly well done, and the moral is positive. I think many who enjoyed Costner's "For Love of the Game" would also enjoy "The Natural."
Aside from all the sentimental overload the movie's other big problem is Robert Redford. Not because Redford gives a bad performance as Roy Hobbs, because he doesn't, but for the simple fact that he is much, much, much too old to believably play the part. Yes the story is about an old man, at least in baseball terms. But not that old. Redford was pushing fifty when he made this movie. He just doesn't look the part as the 35-year old Hobbs we see for most of the movie. And at the start of the movie, when Redford plays Hobbs at the age of nineteen? All the favorable lighting and makeup in the world wasn't going to prevent that from looking truly absurd. It's hard to buy into the movie when the great baseball star looks like your grandpa. For comparison's sake a key role, that of old, cantankerous manager Pop, is played by Wilford Brimley. Brimley is a mere two years older than Redford.
So Redford's casting is a problem. The fact that this supposed baseball movie features some truly ridiculous baseball action doesn't help either. Roy Hobbs joins a terrible team. To show you just how terrible the team is the filmmakers resort to comic baseball, players getting hit in the groin and such. Not funny, not at all. If you want to take this seriously as a baseball movie you're in trouble. There's really nothing believable about the baseball sequences. But if it doesn't work as a baseball movie maybe it at least works as a fable? Not really. The movie beats you over the head with the Roy Hobbs as god stuff but it never really rings true. The fact he's such a dunce surely doesn't help. When a woman from Roy's past shows up she has a secret for him. But she doesn't come right out and say it, she only hints at it. But anybody could figure it out. Anybody except dear old Roy. He doesn't get it. He never seems to get it, no matter what "it" is, unless it's hitting a baseball. That he can do and with remarkable precision, able to hit faraway objects and make them explode whenever the mood strikes him. The character of Roy Hobbs never really works and thus the movie never really works. Redford's acting is fine even if he never looks the part. Many other performers, most notably Robert Duvall and Glenn Close are really wasted, not given enough to do in this totally Roy Hobbs-centered movie. Kim Basinger has a bit more substantial part to play but doesn't really do all that well with it. The film has a great look and sound to it, with beautiful cinematography and a wonderful Randy Newman score. But the story lets the movie down. It's a fable which falls flat, not particularly believable and often, as the movie drags along, not particularly interesting or entertaining. This baseball movie leaves you longing for a real baseball movie.
While in theory there isn't anything wrong is changing aspects of a novel in adaptation, in this case the changes show how they bastardized what was once a work of art and made instead a mediocre movie. In the film, Hobbs is seen making his "magical" bat with his father in a loving, touching father-son moment. In the book, Hobbs' father was an abusive drunk. The character of The Judge is more than just a Snidely Wiplash villain in the book, we actually understand why he's doing what he's doing. And most important of all, Hobbs relationships with the two women (in the film played by Kim Basinger and Glenn Close) is far more complex. The film leaves nothing to the audience's credit, making it clear at the end which woman Hobbs should go for. In Redford and Levinson's watered-down world the heroes are perfect, the villains and completely evil and the outcome is pre-ordained. This is not a thinking man's movie.
They should have at least had the common decency and respect to give this movie a different title so someone could later make a true adaptation of Malamud's brilliant novel.
The film is kind of melodramatic though. It seems like every scene there is a woman dressed in black poisoning Redford. Or there is a woman in white inspiring him to hit the ball out of the park. And speaking of which, there are probably half a dozen scenes where Redford is down two balls and he hits it out of the park.
Putting that aside, the movie still has a lot to offer. The acting (besides Bassinger) is very well done. We also have Duvall, Brimley, Prosky, and Farnesworth giving stellar performances. This is probably the best part of the film, with a close second being the cinematography. All the shots are great eye candy. The glare of the sun, the farmland, the fields (with great color composition). This is really something to see.
Roy Hobbs is in love with innocent farm girl Iris. Okay. But on the train to the Big City, Hobbs meets a BAD GIRL. Oh, she's bad all right. You can tell because she's poised, intelligent, book-smart, and interested in sex. That spells evil, right? Women should be at home making apple pie, not riding in trains and reading books and talking to strange men, right? Who wrote this stuff, Osama Bin Laden?
So Roy goes to lovely Harriet Bird's hotel room, and she SHOOTS HIM WITH A GUN! See what happens when women have too much power? Bet you can't guess where the bullet hits, can you? Symbolic castration time!
Okay. Fifteen years later. Hobbs is back from the dead, (think Bela Lugosi meets Horatio Alger) and wins a second chance with the last place New York Knights. The moment he signs with the team, he meets a BAD GIRL! Kim Basinger is bad girl #2. You can tell "Memo" is bad, bad, bad because she's "not waiting for true love to come along." In other words, she expects to have the same adult freedoms Roy Hobbs has always enjoyed -- like walking into strange people's hotel rooms for sex.
So one night Memo comes into Hobb's hotel room unannounced, drops her mink coat, and gives him plenty to look at. Now stop and think. Hobbs is the golden boy, the hero, right? If he's morally superior to the loose woman, this is the time to say, "young lady, get out of my room! And put some clothes on this instant!" Does he do that? NO!!! He simply stares at her with dead, zombied out eyes, and then they do the deed. Well, if they both do it together, how come SHE is the evil temptress and HE is the helpless victim? Who wrote this stuff, St. Augustine?
Okay, so the moment Hobbs starts having sex with Memo, his bat starts to droop. I mean his batting average declines. What, she's draining his vital bodily fluids? Hobbs starts coming on like General Jack D. Ripper in DR STRANGELOVE: "I don't avoid women, Mandrake. But I do deny them my essence. I don't allow them to sap my pure bodily fluids."
Fortunately, at this point Iris, the GOOD GIRL reappears. Apparently she has lived a chaste, sexless life for fifteen years, while Hobbs was having sex with a long, long string of "bad girls." Now she's ready to take care of him and make apple pies back on the farm? Who wrote this stuff? I mean, like WHO?
A few minutes ago (and for the first time), I just finished reading the novel by Bernard Malamud. The novel, for the most part, was a pretty good read. But I absolutely hated the ending - totally different than the way the movie ended. In fact, I hated its ending so much that, tomorrow, I'm going to donate the book to my library (fighting my first urge to burn it or toss it out with my weekly trash pickup). I will *never* want to read it again.
But the movie? I've watched it several times. And I will no doubt watch it time and time again ... especially now, to take the bad taste out of my mouth left by the novel. Screenplay writers Roger Towne & Phil Dusenberry did a splendid job of transforming Malamud's novel into a hopeful saga of courage & honor with an exceptionally satisfying climax. And Robert Redford, et al, made the Oscar-nominated saga believable and palatable at the same time.
So, watch the movie ... but avoid the novel like the plague.
When I read Malamud's book a few years ago, I was blown away by the ending, one that really underlines the novel's bitterness; and that finish has no place in this film. Even still, while you know who to root for and who to despise, there are still aspects that really need to be fleshed out; Robert Duvall's character, in particular.
But I'm not out to poke holes. This movie is memorable not just for the acting or Randy Newman's main theme, but for its fondness for the period. You watch this for the sun-kissed cinematography and those crucial moments when fate (t last) steps in to level the playing field.
Pacing issues aside, it's a movie everyone needs to see at least once.
******* The Natural (5/11/84) Barry Levinson ~ Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger
Yes, I grant that it has a fine cast, and they all give fine performances.
But the off-the-field story did nothing for me. I never understood Hobbs' attraction to Bassinger's character. I saw no chemistry there at all.
It was the on-the-field story that bothered me. If you take something like "The Stratton Story," where you see Monty Stratton work hard to become a great ball player, you become involved in his efforts, and really root for him.
But Hobbs' success is the result of magic, not any effort on his part. He says that he went 16 years without playing baseball. Yes, he "thought about it" for those 16 years, but thinking about baseball is not working to get good at it.
He hits well, sometimes, because he has a magic bat. But the bat doesn't explain how he can succeed as an outfielder, which he evidently does. We just have to believe that he suddenly can play major-league outfield. Must be niece.
Sure, you feel sorry for him when he gets sick, and appreciate that he must have been in pain during that last game. But other than that, you never see him work to become a successful player. So, when it is taken away from him, it's hard to feel sorry for him.
This just didn't get me involved, at all.
Not having read the book, the film is one that I can watch again and again.
It has an excellent score and direction.
The acting is also first rate. Everyone puts in a good performance, but the performances by Redford, Duvall, Close, Hershey, McGavin, Prosky - and even Michael Madsen in a very believable but tiny performance - are excellent. Even if Close did not have a demanding role, her performance adds to the film's "heart".
In some ways, this almost perfectly captures the "magic" of baseball. A definite for fans of the historical (as opposed to the modern) game.