B- Sound B+ Extras B+
starring Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Richard Farnsworth
screenplay by Phil Dusenberry and Roger Towne, based on the novel by Bernard Malamud
directed by Barry Levinson
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Looking up Barry Levinson's The Natural on WIKIPEDIA, I came across this dopey quote from Bill Simmons, an ESPN reporter who goes by the insipid nickname The Sports Guy: "Any 'Best Sports Movies' list that doesn't feature either Hoosiers or The Natural as the No. 1 pick shouldn't even count." This is why sportswriters have no business writing about movies. Aside from lacking the vocabulary necessary to analyze them (Michael Bamberger's riveting hatchet job on M. Night Shyamalan, The Man Who Heard Voices, would read even better without so many painful sports metaphors taking the place of film terminology), they're a maudlin lot, suckers for the human-interest story that ennobilizes their vocation and heightens the vicarious kick on which they as armchair jocks thrive. I'm betting Simmons hears Randy Newman's triumphal score from The Natural while he's brushing his teeth. (Hell, it's probably his ringtone.) Assuming "sports movie" is not a handicap that some films are presumed to transcend--assuming that any movie featuring a protagonist whose life revolves around the playing or coaching of a single sport fits the bill, not just the uplifting ones--then I can think of at least ten titles more worthily crowned "Best Sports Movie" than Hoosiers or, especially, The Natural: Fat City, Raging Bull, Rocky, The Wrestler, Downhill Racer, The Hustler, Slap Shot, The Bad News Bears (original), and The Longest Yard (again, original). And that's leaving subjectivity out of it as much as I know how. The problem, of course, is that only about half of those flicks send you out of the theatre feeling like a champion, whereas the rest traffic in, to borrow a phrase from The Bad News Bears, "moral" victories--which is bound to be anathema to guys like Simmons, who propagate hero myths for a living.