The "perfect" movie has never been made. You can argue "Casablanca" or "Citizen Kane" or even 'The Princess Bride," but every art, especially the collaborative ones, are prone to flaws and mishaps. However, occasionally a film blindsides you because it wraps up what you think about life, love, and all the little intangibles into a concise little two hour package, and you forgive that film any faults it has because to you, it's the perfect movie. For me it's Bull Durham.Most people outside the baseball community judge Bull Durham as an amiable yet slight romantic comedy besotted by the presence of Kevin Costner, who's not exactly in favor these days. Actually, Costner is at the top of his form as aging minor league catcher Crash Davis who's brought down to the sticks to school a talented yet witless pitching phenom, Ebby LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). Complicating matters is the luminous Susan Sarandon as aging transcendental groupie Annie Savoy, who selects one player a season to coach in the game of life. As she says, every player who's slept with her has had the best season of his career. She chooses LaLoosh, who she quickly nicknames "Nuke," though the heat simmering between she and Crash cannot be ignored.
"An unsung masterpiece. Yes, you read that right."
Costner has the best role of his life as Davis, the wise yet tragic hired gun. He acquits himself admirably in the baseball scenes and exudes warmth off the diamond. He doesn't have a wide range, to be sure, but he utilizes what he's capable of with charming and ruthless efficiency as Crash. Robbins, though not the most mechanically sound pitcher in the history of cinema, nails the dim yet affable punk routine with flair. And Sarandon sizzles as Savoy in one of the plain sexiest, smartest screen siren roles of the last twenty years. Fleshing things out nicely are excellent supporting turns by Robert Wuhl as the assistant coach Larry, William O'Leary as the stoutly religious player Jimmy, Jenny Robertson as team groupie Millie, and Trey "Nathan Arizona" Wilson as Durham Bulls manager Skip.
This film works not just because of the magnetic performances of the principals, but because of an engaging (and Oscar-nominated) screenplay by director Ron Shelton. Shelton is primarily known as "the sports guy" in Tinseltown because of his multiple sports-themed films like "White Men Can't Jump" and "Play It To The Bone." He's always entertaining though not really consistent, as such fare as "Cobb" shows. That film and "Blaze," fun though they are in spotlighting historical characters of note, illustrate that Shelton works best in a blue-collar milieu, chronicling the everyday struggles, the emotional upheavals, and the small triumphs of the rank and file humanity who just happen to excel on the field of play.
It's humanity that's the grist in this particular filmic mill, which proves the adage that those people cursed with self-awareness are our most tortured souls, while those too stupid or too carefree to let life bother them seem to follow a path paved with gold. Ebby, to no one's surprise, continues his charmed existence, though he's been given an altered, mature outlook through his time with Crash and Annie, while those two characters face their own demons and have to decide if they want to face them with each other. The final scene is one of the most honest, most knowing, most REAL expressions of world-weary true love ever committed to film, and it elevates the entire movie to a special place in the humanistic romantic comedy canon, if there is indeed such an animal.This is also a sports movie, of course, though the winning and losing of sport is more of a backdrop and a symbol, far from the point of this small, enterprising film. Bull Durham is about how we handle our successes and, more notably, our failures, and how sometimes passion is all that's left to drive us. For people so inclined to believe in baseball as a metaphor for an imperfect life, I defend the statement that Bull Durham is, yes, the perfect movie.
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originally posted: 05/22/00 18:14:35