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THE NATURAL (1984)

Article 3525 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-15-2011
Posting Date: 4-9-2011
Directed by Barry Levinson
Featuring Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger
Country: USA
What it is: Baseball fantasy

A promising young baseball player's career is nipped in the bud when he is shot by a woman under mysterious circumstances.  He returns to the game as a middle-aged man, and proves to be a phenomenal player, but there are those who want him and his team to fail...

One thought I had as I was watching this movie is that it could have easily slid into campy overkill; the potentially melodramatic plot machinations and overtly symbolic characters could have bushwhacked this movie if it had taken itself seriously in a realistic mode.  The reason it succeeds is that it knows it's a fable and an allegory, and though the movie never becomes an overt fantasy, the undercurrent of it not being realistic is incredibly strong.  It's further helped by a whole slew of excellent performances from everyone, from Robert Redford's heroic slugger to Wilfred Brimley's put-upon coach to Glenn Close's angelic girlfriend to Robert Prosky's corrupt judge.  Two performances in particular are worthy of mention; Joe Don Baker is truly memorable playing The Whammer (obviously modelled off of Babe Ruth), and Darren McGavin (who goes unbilled) almost steals the show as a high-stakes gambler.  I ended up really liking the movie, and I don't care one whit for baseball.  Of course, whether I would actually classify it as a fantasy is another issue, and even given my comments above, it still seems quite a stretch to me.  For the record, the movie is included in John Stanley's "Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again", thus it's inclusion in this series.

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