For the Love of the Game (Film Review: “The Natural”)

The iconic baseball movie that shaped a generation, and the central character who will forever embody the quintessential American hero.

SnapShot Plot

Sometimes the world is too much and we need to take a step back to decompress, to refresh the mind and spirit. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, all it takes is a return to a film so iconic that merely one frame or a single musical note of its stirring theme will restore and renew our faith in humanity. That may seem like a grandiose stretch unless the film is the 1984 masterpiece, The Natural, starring Robert Redford, Wilford Brimley, Robert Duvall and Glenn Close, to name but a few luminaries in the cast.

Adapted from the novel by Bernard Malamud, The Natural is the mid century story of Roy Hobbs, a corn-fed farm boy and baseball phenom who leaves his sweetheart behind to take his first train ride to a major league tryout with the Chicago Cubs. En route to the city, he encounters a mysterious woman who seizes on his innocent ambition and, in a shocking encounter, derails his dreams entirely. Many years later, Roy shows up as a middle-aged recruit to the floundering New York Knights baseball team, eager to simply play the game he loves but unwilling to talk about his past. When he is finally allowed to take the field, his incalculable talent for the game make him an instant sensation, bringing him to the attention of throngs of admirers as well as some notorious types who must contend with his incorruptibility.

Parting Shot

Directed by master filmmaker Barry Levinson, with an evocative and memorable score by Randy Newman and a nostalgic visual palette captured by legendary cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, The Natural is an enveloping experience from start to finish. It captures you from the very first frames, of Roy Hobbs sitting alone in a dusty train station looking every bit like a post WWII Edward Hopper painting. That single moment sets the mood and the atmosphere for an unforgettable movie experience the likes of which can never be replicated.

Robert Redford’s graceful portrayal of the central character of Roy Hobbs may very well have solidified him as the embodiment of the all-American hero, the would-be loner whose moral compass cannot be sullied or compromised by the corrupt temptations of lesser men. Roy Hobbs is a man of few words, whose actions speak for themselves, with a purity of purpose which makes him impatient with the glitter and trappings of celebrity. But if this undeniably and brilliantly gifted baseball player – a natural in every way – has one Achilles heel, it indeed involves celebrity. For Roy doesn’t care about the material riches associated with rising to the top of the baseball world; rather, he wants to be appreciated for being the best. He wants to be remembered as the best who ever played the game. That, his only real ambition, makes him a target on one level. But his absolute love for the game and for the spirit of fair play place him beyond reproach and ultimately deserving of the devotion and dreams of others. Fittingly, the movie begins and ends in a game of catch between a father and son, against the backdrop of a cornfield swaying in the breeze. A wholly American image, blissfully free of any subtext except the smiles on their faces and the wind in their hair.

The Natural is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to partner on a fantastic site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern (presently known as Pandemic Diaries) as well as right here at home. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer:

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