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From The DVD Shelf: The Natural (1984)

I have fond memories of watching The Natural with my father as a kid, but it’s been quite a number of years since I’d seen it last.  When I saw a blu-ray of the film on-sale at Amazon for just a few bucks, I snatched it up.  What fun it was to revisit this fine film!

In Barry Levinson’s 1984 ode to baseball and Americana, Robert Redford plays Roy Hobbs.  As a young man he is clearly gifted with amazing skills at the game of baseball, and there doesn’t seem to be anything that can stand in his way to become the best ball-player to ever play the game.  But one moral mis-step cuts his dreams short.  Roy gets a second chance sixteen years later, when as a middle-aged rookie he comes back to the majors to help a losing ball-club on it’s quest for the pennant.

There’s a dramatic through-line to the film, of course, but The Natural really is a fairy-tale.  That had always been by recollection of the film, but I was still surprised, re-watching it now, just how prominent those fairy-tale aspects of the film are.  Watching the film, you might notice that the dangerous females all wear black, while the honest, noble heroine wears white.  But it cuts deeper than that.  The film is, at essence, a morality play.  It’s clear that we’re meant to understand that young Roy Hobbs is struck down by the woman in black not out of some random chance, but because he chose to break faith with his girlfriend back home (Glenn Close).  Then, later in the film, during his come-back season, when he takes up with the duplicitous Memo (Kim Basinger), his seeming invincibility at the plate suddenly ends.  In the world of The Natural, only the morally true can succeed.

I found this puzzling as a kid (I didn’t really understand why one moment Roy Hobbs could hit nothing but home runs, while the next he was striking out, and I was totally befuddled by the motivations of the woman in black), while now as an adult I find it to be endearingly sweet.  Such a simplistic, moral story could collapse into silliness, but the film is carried along by strong direction by Barry Levinson and some great performances by a high-wattage cast.

At the top, of course, is Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs.  Other than Christopher Reeves’ performance as Superman in the late seventies and early eighties, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with such a striking representation of truth, justice, and the American way.  The performance works because Mr. Redford — as did Mr. Reeves — plays the role with such straight-faced honesty and enthusiasm, with … [continued]