They don't make movie stars like Robert Redford anymore. In 1984, four years after his last film "Brubaker", Redford returned to the screen in THE NATURAL.
Beautifully shot, leisurely paced and set to Randy Newman's all-time great music score, it's a baseball fable that spans decades.
The film opens with young Roy Hobbs (Redford) on his way to Chicago to play with the Cubs. There are glimpses of amazing talent and an anxious departure for the big city.
But the story doesn't take the path you expect, with a sudden tragedy derailing Hobbs for almost 20 years.
We move forward to the hapless New York Knights. Cellar dwelling, inept and frustrated, they can't believe it when Roy, far too old to be starting his career, walks into the clubhouse.
Wilford Brimley (Cocoon) is Pop Fisher, the coach who refuses to play him, thinking its a bad joke. Richard Farnsworth (Havana) is the asst coach who sees something in Hobbs beneath the quiet surface.
Darren McGavin is a glass eyed, powerful bookie, Kim Basinger is Memo, seductive bad luck in a white dress and Robert Prosky (Heat) is The Judge, who things any man can be bought.
Director Barry Levinson (Diner) and writer Robert Towne (Chinatown) carefully craft an episodic but legendary mythology.
Hobbs is superhuman with the baseball but a complete mystery off the field. Who is Roy and where's he been for 18 years?
Glenn Close is Iris Gaines, Roy's girlfriend who saw him off in that train station for Chicago decades ago. When she returns, she's got secrets of her own.
The heart of the film is on the baseball diamond and the Knights journey from the depths to a pennant contender is lot of fun. It's loaded with comedy , heart and romance for the game.
Hobbs most legendary home runs in the film are now part of movie history, with Newman's music soaring up as lighting and thunder boom and the crack of Roy's bat sends the ball up and into the stadium like a rocket. Clocks and scoreboards shatter, lights explode in showers of sparks that drip down on the celebrating players like fireworks.
While the first thirty minutes is shockingly unpredictable, the final thirty delivers exactly what you hope.
Redford is terrific from start to finish and his growth from innocent farm hand to a sports legend is sports movie nirvana.
There's nothing subtle about the storytelling. Virtuous characters seem bathed in golden light in almost every shot. Bad guys are wrapped in dark rooms and swirls of smoke, but Levinson's hand is sure and he pulls such great performances out of all his actors that you feel like you know them. Brimley and Farnsworth have never been better.
The other man present across all those years is Robert Duvall as sports reporter Max Mercy. For decades, he searches for who Hobbs really is as a man. Mercy seems to be the only character who straddles the line between light and dark and Duvall's terrific jumping back and forth over that border.
I loved Hobbs bat Wonderboy, hand-carved from a tree struck by lightning. Carrying it like Excalibur, Hobbs steps up to the plate and stares down the pitcher.
If the pennant was my Holy Grail, there's no one I'd rather have at bat than Roy Hobbs.
THE NATURAL rounds all the bases with an A+ and a lineup spot on deck to my all time top 100 lineup.