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The One-Line Summary: In 1923, Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) is a talented young baseball player who gets called up to the majors, traveling to Chicago for a tryout with the Cubs but gets shot in a hotel room by a deranged serial killer that ends his career until sixteen years later when he’s 35-year-old and gets another chance, sending a shockwave through the league as his incredible exploits inspire the fans and an old flame who was there for him many years ago and wonders at is triumphant return.
The Two-Line Blurb: Directed by Barry Levinson, The Natural is a strange film about a man who from all accounts is blessed by an other-worldly gift and made to excel by ethereal powers but is never given any reason for or meaning to the events that guide him, making this a confusing tale with dead ends, red herrings, and a singular desire to keep only its star in the light and keeping many of the far more interesting characters off in the peripheral. While it’s well directed and beautifully scored by Randy Newman, the overall experience is hampered by the fantasy of it all, it’s frustrating ambiguity and inconsistent pace, trudging along past the 130-minute mark.
The Three-Line Set-up: The moment is about discovery and begins with a tragedy. As a boy, Hobbs is already showing a prowess for the sport, playing catch with his father out in the field behind the house when one day, his father suffers a fatal heart attack at the base of a tree. A little later on, that same tree is struck by lightning, splitting it in two, glowing as if possessed by a magic power, prompting the young man to carve a baseball bat out of the tree’s heart, burning the name “Wonderboy” in the stock.
The Four-Line Moment: Years later, Hobbs (who has some notoriety for pitching eight no-hitters in the minor leagues) and his manager are on a train heading for Chicago and the tryouts when the train stops at a carnival. There, they are challenged by “The Whammer”, a famous major league hitting champion who is not impressed by the rookie and wants to show off for the gathering crowd. Acting as umpire for the impromptu event is sportswriter Max Mercy (Robert Duvall) who, like everyone watching the pitches, is shocked how easily he strikes out the batting king. His article and drawing of the incident propel Hobbs into the headlines, but well before that, standing in the crowd is Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey), a ravishing women who marks him as her next target for a tragic rendezvous in a hotel room.
The Five-Word Review: Entertaining but disappointing baseball story.