The Batter’s Eye: The Natural

The Natural (1984, directed by Barry Levinson) is the start of what I think of as the peak baseball movie era of the ’80s and early ’90s. Maybe some of that is just because that’s the time I grew up in, but I would say for a lot of us, when we think of the classic baseball movies, they’re from this period.

The Natural is good. It’s even great in that award-bait way, which this absolutely is. Nothing here is particularly surprising, but there is an economy to the filmmaking that lets this movie breathe. The cast is amazing, of course. Robert Redford is great as the lead, Roy Hobbs, but it was hard to forget I was watching Robert Redford. Kim Basinger brings a feeling of sorrow to the femme fatale Memo Parks, giving depth to a rather thankless role. I do feel like Glenn Close is slightly miscast, though, because she seems a bit too hard for the saintly Iris.

Parts of this didn’t quite land with me. There’s definitely an undercurrent of sexism here, from Roy being shot by Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey) who I assume just wanted to stop him from being a great baseball player. And of course, Roy’s career slumps after he takes up with Memo because women are the cause of all problems. Except when Iris reappears and is framed angelically by the sun, thereby restoring Roy’s ability to play. (It was an effective image, but I did laugh at that.)

There is an assortment of backroom drama and Roy’s old injury comes back into play. I knew how this was likely to end — this is a Hollywood sports movie — but I still got really caught up in Roy’s final at-bat. I think this movie did a great job of capturing the excitement and tension of baseball games.

And speaking of that, the baseball action is great. Redford looks like he’s actually playing for the most part and it feels like there was less editing trickery overall. As much drama happens off the field, it’s the drama on the field that truly drives the movie. I like when baseball movies are actually about baseball. Everything else is just secondary.

It’s really the baseball parts of this that I think will stick with me even after the details of the plot will fade away. In the end, it’s the game that ultimately matters here.