The Natural (1984)
Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Robert Prosky, Michael Madsen. Written by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry (based on the novel by Bernard Malamud). Directed by Barry Levinson.
I first saw The Natural only a few years ago at a friend’s house. We had a nice conversation about it after. I’m sure I mentioned things I liked and things I didn’t care for. But as I recently went through a list of 1984 film in hopes of seeing good ones I missed, I stopped on this one and realized I couldn’t remember a single thing about it, except two particular home run scenes because they get played all the time in sports TV.
So I saw it again, with strangely fresh eyes. I’d read the novel (which I now cannot really remember either) in the fall of 1993, a particularly rough and memorable season in my life, something that may also have affected my first viewing. Unburdened by whatever, I grabbed some trail mix and got comfy.
How did I forget that Barry Levinson, a director I really like, directed this picture? It has a lot of the Levinson stuff, with city streets where all the cars look the same, and those gauzy daylight shots in fields where fluffy stuff is floating around in the air, and kids carrying shoeshine boxes while calling people “mister.” The look and feel of this movie is one of the best things about it, something I was happy to rediscover.
I close my eyes and I can still hear the soundtrack, and I swear it’s by someone like James Horner, but it’s Randy Newman. Dreamy.
The baseball stuff in a baseball movie is very important to me. I don’t care if what happens on the field is improbable, but I want to believe that a baseball game is being played. The baseball stuff here mostly passes the test, but one major scene (this isn’t really a spoiler) is nearly ruined for me. In the scene where Robert Redford hits a homer that smashes the scoreboard clock (where Glenn Close stands up and people yell at her to sit down), I think it was ESPN’s Adnan Virk who pointed out that the Knights are the visiting team, so Hobbs hits a walk-off homerun when he can’t actually hit one. I played the scene three times and there’s actually a little bit of room for benefit of the doubt. Nobody in the stands gets up to go, indicating that the game isn’t over. We do see reporters rush onto the field for photographs and interviews, and that’s certainly not realistic, but that’s more likely than Cubs fans staying in their seats minutes after the game is over.
What a cast, and what solid acting. I especially enjoy the scenes with Roy and Iris in the last act of the movie. Levinson lets Redford and Close take their time, leaving comfortable but uncomfortable pauses between lines. Stuff is not being said, and stuff is being said that’s waited a long time, and both characters are being careful, for their own safety and for each other’s.
I watched it twice this week, and I don’t think I’m likely to forget it again. It’s a lovely movie.