Revisit is a series of reviews highlighting past releases that now deserve a second look.

The Natural is a film that could be described in any number of limiting ways. It’s a baseball movie. It’s Americana at its most twinkly-eyed. It’s a film adaptation of a literary work. It’s a retelling of Arthurian legend. It’s about America failing. Or is it about America succeeding? To its credit, The Natural actually supports all that and pulls off one more practically unique trick. As an adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel, it manages the rare feat of completely reversing the climactic ending of the story while still maintaining its elegiac spirit. And more importantly than any of that, it remains a beautiful film, full of nostalgia for a tragic and triumphant era that perhaps never truly existed.

Directed by Barry Levinson (Diner, Bugsy, Rain Man), The Natural features Robert Redford in one of his finest roles, one that would be difficult to imagine with any other actor. As once and future baseball star Roy Hobbs, Redford is called upon to play a man in all seasons of his life, as a young man full of hope and pride, as an aged man bitter at himself, as a figure who embodies both potential and its waste. The film begins with all the elements of a modern myth: a preternaturally gifted boy, an idyllic home in the wheat fields of Midwestern America, even a literal bolt of lightning that bestows Roy with his magic bat Wonderboy. After defeating a legendary foe (a cocky Babe Ruth stand-in simply called “The Whammer”), on the eve of his debut in the sports world, he’s shot by a madwoman and the story skips forward to Hobbs as a middle-aged man finally getting his chance at pro baseball, this time on a losing, third-string team.

All this could seem ridiculous or overblown, if there were even a moment of irony or distance. But it’s all played completely straight, never letting the legend turn into parody or self-consciousness. Instead, the movie goes the distance with it, following Malamud’s adaptation of Arthurian mythos. The New York Knights baseball team stand in for the Round Table; the Fisher King becomes Pop Fisher, the grumbling manager (Wilford Brimley at his most cantankerous); a longed-after pennant victory stands in for the Holy Grail. All of this is fused with cinematography by Caleb Deschanel (Being There, The Black Stallion) that so superbly invokes a yesteryear America full of men in hats, grand trains stations and gloriously golden state fairs that it looks like a Norman Rockwell painting come alive. A fantastic supporting cast doesn’t hurt, either: but even with Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Michael Madsen, Barbara Hershey, Richard Farnsworth and Robert Duvall on board, it’s still Redford’s show.

The Natural departs from the original novel (SPOILER ALERT) most significantly in its oft-referenced climax, in which Hobbs, still bleeding from a long ago bullet wound, hammers a game winning home run into the stadium spotlights and runs the circuit under scintillating explosions. In Malamud’s work, Hobbs strikes out and lives to fade away as a symbol of lost potential. But while critics can claim that the film chose a route of easy feel-good triumph, they’re missing an important point: in the finale of both stories, Hobbs is given a chance to throw the game for money and instead tries his hardest. In one story, he wins and achieves the glory he always craved. In the other, he loses. But they’re still essentially the same story, just ending with different possibilities. Hobbs is always the flawed hero, a natural athlete crippled by his own pride and blindness. What The Natural does is simply show the best of him.

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