Bull Durham March 26, 2016
If Tom Hanks asserts that there’s no crying in baseball, then I assume there isn’t a place for romance there, either. So maybe that’s why its presence in Bull Durham, a baseball movie, is such a welcome, rebellious refresher. It doesn’t want to be there, and yet it overcomes the odds. Falling in love isn’t something one can help, whether it’s intentionally sought out or if it’s being avoided to maintain a winning streak.
Kevin Costner, cast because of his natural athletic abilities and all-American magnetism, stars as Crash Davis, a veteran Minor Leaguer given the task of training new single-A recruit Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), who has a great arm but is still developing aim in his pitching. Crash, grounded and tiring of his lack of success in the profession, instantaneously has a hard time getting along with the young, foolish Nuke, whose womanizing, faux macho ways, are more than just a little frustrating to deal with.
Things are made interesting, however, by the entrance of Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), a baseball devotee and groupie who, for the last few years, has made it her mission to court at least one star player every season. Seeing Nuke’s potential, she immediately (and shamelessly) seduces him, mentoring him romantically, if you will. Annie is no dim-witted follower, though: we sense that her carnal quests are more a result of a thirst for control than a thirst for good and decent love. But the situation is complicated by the fact that Annie is also attracted to Crash, whose directly opposite personality and maturity of her current boy toy could end up transforming into something real.
In Bull Durham, it’s the repartee between this messy love triangle that keeps us compelled. Baseball is riveting in real-time, sure, but as far as cinematic focus, it tends to land somewhere south of colorless. So these characters are key, and we’re fortunate enough to get ones written comprehensively by director Ron Shelton, and we’re fortunate that they’re being played by a trio of actors who sell themselves so well as these people that we’re pressed to consider different talents as able to bemuse us as dearly.
Costner is a steady hero, efficacious in the way he portrays Crash’s subtle vulnerabilities, and Robbins is perfect because he’s exactly what a young player should be: cocky, immature, and unable to see through anyone’s eyes but his own. But it’s Sarandon who runs away with the entire movie as a woman who may have been written tawdrily in other hands but is, instead, fiery, spirited, and unabashedly smart. She’s not your average fan, just an aficionado who figures having an affair with a player a season is the best way to show devotion. I love the way her Annie and Costner’s Crash don’t realize just how wonderful a couple they’ll be until the very last act of the movie; so into their routines they’ve been that they haven’t been able to see the person right in front of them for what they really are.
But in response to that, I also admittedly wish that we were able to spend more time with them as a couple; Sarandon and Costner’s chemistry is thrillingly charged, and we have that deep feeling that we’re not getting enough of it. But everything else about Bull Durham is just about right, its scenes of baseball nuanced, its relationships between players brotherly, its disappointments (on the parts of its characters) decisive. It’s a romantic comedy of real canniness, and it’s a nice change. B