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The Natural (1984)

The Natural. Feature film. (1984, 134 mins) IMDB

...a little too Hollywood and sweet for my liking...

A

young boy growing up on a farm shows he has a strong throwing arm and can hit the ball. He's a natural baseball talent. As a young man he gets a tryout with Chicago Cubs and begins the journey to the big leagues. Before he leaves, he makes love to his sweetheart. On the train trip he meets a newspaper sports reporter and Babe Ruth. During a pit stop, a challenge is set. Strike out Ruth with three pitches. He does. The legend has begun except there's a major bump in the road. He meets a sexy woman on the train. At a hotel later, he goes to her room where she shots him with a handgun. What the!?!

Flashforward sixteen years. Our hero gets a tryout with a struggling NY major league team. He's 36 years old and has virtually no baseball experience. That's an odd story. It just doesn't happen. The manager and team don't want him, but he sticks around long enough to get a chance to prove he belongs and he does. He becomes a regular player in the three spot--their best hitter. The team starts winning games because of his hitting. They climb in the standings. The attendance goes up.

That's the first half of the story. Enter the dark part.

The manager is part owner of the team. The judge is the other owner. There's a deal in place: if the team finishes first in the NL, the judge has to sell his interest to the manager. If they don't, the manager is out.

With the help of our hero, the possibility of the finishing first is good. Enter a bookmaker and femme fatale to destroy that outcome. When she seduces him, he becomes so screwed up from sex, he can't hit. If he's not hitting, the team isn't winning.

Enter bribes from the judge and pressure from the bookmaker to take a dive and let the team lose. He won't do that.

He's saved when his childhood sweetheart enters the picture. They haven't seen each other since the day he left his father's farm. She's living in Chicago. Single mother. Working. The child is his. When she's in the stands, his hitting is back.

The climax builds to a playoff game to decide who finishes first. His late inning home run clinches the deal. They win. It's his last game in the majors.

Why? The bullet was still in him and damaged his stomach. Playing might result in a rupture and death. It doesn't matter because he goes back to the farm with the golden fields of wheat and blue sky to play catch with his son and his girl. He gets something he didn't ask for. He wanted to break all the records and be famous. He didn't get that.

I watched this film a number of years ago knowing it was a "classic." When it was over, I wondered why and asked, is that all? I ask the same questions this time. Is that all there is?

Maybe if you're a baseball fan, you'll love this movie. I suppose, but I loved BULL DURHAM and this film isn't the same.

This film never draws me in emotionally. Not once am I routing for this or that. I'm just watching and wondering when it will end.

Posted 2009/06/04 at 21h01ET in Movie Commentary.

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