The Batter’s Eye: Bull Durham

Bull Durham (1988, directed by Ron Shelton) is the first of the classic baseball movies starring Kevin Costner. That doesn’t have much to do with anything but I felt like pointing it out.

The movie is about a minor league superfan, Annie (Susan Sarandon) who picks one player to seduce and lead to greatness during the season. She finds two options — Crash (Costner), a veteran catcher, and rookie pitcher Nuke (Tim Robbins). She picks Nuke but becomes more and more attracted to Crash.

Meanwhile, Crash is trying to train Nuke in the ways of baseball and, somewhat, life.

Sarandon is a standout here and I liked how much Annie was unapologetically herself. Costner is oddly stiff (even more than he is usually) here but Robbins sells the naivety and airheadedness of Nuke.

The relationships all feel oddly underdeveloped. I have already written about the deep relationship between a pitcher and a catcher but the connection between Crash and Nuke is, disappointingly, not a strong one. I get Annie’s attraction to Nuke (because he is an adorable fool) but I was less sold on her attraction to Crash. Crash comes across as kind of a jerk to me anyway.

The script also feels a bit too in love with itself and wants to be more clever than it is. I like some of the ideas here, but I also felt like it was trying too hard to be “adult.” I have no objections to swearing or sex scenes in movies but this came across like an adolescent’s view of what being a grownup would be like.

The time period also felt odd to me. Due to mentions of Motley Crüe, it was clearly meant to be contemporary to when the movie was made but it also had a ’50s/’60s vibe to it at the same time, from the styling and overall tone.

But I’ll allow much of this was meant to be metaphorical to some extent, with Annie’s ability to raise players to greatness (she says baseball is her religion several times and she does have a shrine) and it’s clearly meant to be a nostalgic look at baseball. However, I don’t know why the movie wasn’t just set in the past because I think it would’ve sold the themes a bit more.

The baseball action is fun and decent, though, and I liked watching Nuke grow as a player. I didn’t love this movie overall, though, except for Sarandon’s performance. I wish I had liked it more but I also don’t regret watching it.