Saturday, May 15, 2010

THE NATURAL (Barry Levinson, 1984, USA)

Roy Hobbs is born with a super natural talent that carries him from a small town towards the big leagues with a detour in purgatory. Director Barry Levinson adapts Bernard Malamud’s debut novel, a piercing indictment of greed and guilt, and transforms it into an epic victory of a man’s battle against his past…and himself.

Roy Hobbs’ devilish nature is alluded to in the very first shot: he is split in half by a dark penumbra, his face obscured, as he waits for a train. The narrative locomotion then takes him backwards in time, where his boyish wonder is consumed by adult desires and he soon learns that some mistakes are never paid in full. Roy’s quicksilver talent seems limitless but ethereal, imbued with a deific vengeance whose power is not only creation…but self-destruction. Roy must tame this supernatural force or become an animal, his humanity diminished, slain by a mythical silver bullet.

Levinson’s cinematography captures the golden era of baseball with a nostalgic hue, contrasting the love of the game with the ubiquitous presence of the almighty dollar. The stadium designs, uniforms, and the subtlety manipulated color palette evoke the traditional T206 card series, a looking glass into the great American pastime. Levinson wonderfully compresses and expands time utilizing visual and audio montage and slow-motion: when Roy hits 4 homer runs, the broadcaster announces his first three at-bats while he slowly makes his fourth swing, finally exclaiming this unbelievable feat!

Robert Redford may be slightly to good-natured for the role, stereotyped as a hero who is bound to do the right things: it eliminates tension because we know he won’t succumb to temptation. The real stars are the supporting cast in Darren McGavin, Wilford Brimley, and Richard Farnsworth: they lend credibility and humanity that supersedes the scripted reality. Randy Newman’s grandiose score touches all four corners of the diamond, evoking the mystery and mastery of this Homerian epic.
The finale is diluted by a sappy ending and would have been better served under the fireworks, as a shower of sparks becomes a fallen star, and we are left to ponder Roy’s last at-bat. Final Grade: (B+)

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