Just Push Play: DVD Review of "The Natural"

Mike’s take: 4 Stars

Just in time for the start of a new season of baseball, a director’s cut of “The Natural” has been released, loaded with extras. The documentary and commentary are great, but the additional 15 minutes of footage is hard to find, and doesn’t add much value to an already incredible movie.

Director Barry Levinson (“Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Sleepers”) helms one of the best baseball films ever made, as Robert Redford plays the phenom ballplayer whose journey into the big leagues ends abrupt with tragedy. Years later, he returns to the game, shrouded in mystery and carrying the “Wonderboy” bat that revives a losing ball club.

I’ll admit a bias toward this movie. It was filmed in my hometown ball park and one of my coaches was cast as an extra, but I didn’t know this until years after first seeing the film on cable.

What hooked me was the epic nature of the Roy Hobbs story. The whole film, while fictional, has a real-life feel to it. From the scene where a young Hobbs shames “The Whammer” with three pitches, to the persistent presence of a snooping sports writer, Hobbs’ story is filled with adversity and overcoming tragedy.

If nothing else, it contains one of the most replayed and inspirational clips in sports film history, when Hobbs shatters the stadium lights with a homerun ball, and runs the bases while showered in sparkling light.

Fans of other baseball movies like “Bull Durham,” “The Rookie” or “Eight Men Out,” should appreciate this not as a comedic outing at the ballpark, but as a sentimental/romantic film about America’s favorite pastime.

True fans of the film will like the entire package, which also contains a NY Knights ball cap, a signed Roy Hobbs baseball and trading cards.

Jorge's take: 2 Stars

I had to keep reminding myself that this was an 80s movie telling a story from the late 60s or early 70s because I expected to hear the special effect sounds of a fast pitch. But that was me thinking about the arrows from “Robin Hood” or the cracking billiards from “The Color of Money.”

In any case, the strength of this movie is not in how well it’s able to make me feel like I’m on a baseball diamond, it’s in the signature performance of Robert Redford. He plays his typical, cool and unnemotional role that he’s always good at and known for. It’s the same Redford who investigates Watergate in “All the President’s Men,” and the same thief ring leader from “Sneakers.”

There’s nothing wrong with that. I enjoy watching a good actor do his best work. But when he played the journalist, he had to play the pensive investigator who put together the pieces of a complicated puzzle. In “Sneakers,” Redford brought stability to a motley crew of talented outcasts. The problem with “The Natural” is that Redford is a loner who’s only goal in life is to play baseball.

I’ve never liked Glenn Close, so it doesn’t help the movie that she is both a burden and an inspiration to Redford’s dream. His sole passion is to play ball, but we never see him get emotional about this. Even when tested by money, seduction or death, Redford keeps cool. Nothing can break him, except for, perhaps, striking out in the first innings.

Robert Duvall, the troublesome sports journalist who never played baseball, brings color to an otherwise monotonous drama appropriate for a Sunday afternoon on TNT, when you have nothing else to do and a slow-paced movie suits you.

But I can’t say the movie was bad. I always like to see how life almost keeps a character from doing what he’s most good at. I would have liked to have seen how it was that he got so good, but we are supposed to believe it was his natural ability to throw a fast one.