Our review of Bull Durham (Blu-Ray), published August 16th, 2010, is also available.
"I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there's no guilt in baseball, and it's never boring…which makes it like sex. There's never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn't have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I'd never sleep with a player hitting under .250…not unless he had a lot of RBIs and was a great glove man up the middle. You see, there's a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds. Sometimes when I've got a ballplayer alone, I'll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him, and the guys are so sweet, they always stay and listen. 'Course, a guy'll listen to anything if he thinks it's foreplay. I make them feel confident, and they make me feel safe, and pretty. 'Course, what I give them lasts a lifetime; what they give me lasts 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade. But bad trades are part of baseball—now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God's sake? It's a long season and you gotta trust. I've tried 'em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball."—Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon)
"Why's he calling me meat? I'm the one driving a Porsche."—Ebby LaLoosh (Tim Robbins)
Every now and then, the stars converge and from the most unlikely of places, a perfect movie is created. Ron Shelton's (White Men Can't Jump) directorial debut, Bull Durham, is just such a movie. Sly, witty, romantic, sexy and with a palatable sense of reality this is a movie that easy transcends its '80s hair styles and fashions to stand as one of the great screen comedies. MGM steps up to the plate with a nice special edition that may not hit one out of the park, but certainly rounds second with an eye on third.
Facts Of The Case
Catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner, JFK) is closing in on a dubious record: all time home run leader for the minor leagues. While trying to continue his career in a very unforgiving sport, Davis finds his contract bought out with him being sent to the Durham Bulls. Seems the Bulls have a bona fide major league pitching prospect in the form of Ebby LaLoosh (Tim Robbins, Bob Roberts). The thinking is that with Davis' knowledge of the game he will be able to season LaLoosh and prepare him for "the show." LaLoosh does not know it, but there is another teacher waiting for him. Her name is Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon, Atlantic City), and she is the Durham Bulls' biggest fan. Annie is teaching a lot more than just the basics of the game, but it is sport nevertheless. So sit back and enjoy as our three characters swing, strike out, score, and balk.
"Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it's also a job."—Annie Savoy
Well, spring is upon us, the boys of summer are well into training and its time for my second annual review of a baseball movie. Last year I reviewed The Natural, writing of how sports movies use the arena and its players to act as metaphors for the human condition while also representing and highlighting various societal archetypes. Looking at Bull Durham, we are looking at a very different exploration: Sex. Yes, this movie may have some of the most accurate depictions of what it means to be a professional athlete, but in the end what this movie is really about is sex and love. Not that there is anything simple about those subjects.
I'll play the baseball geek and ask the question, is there anything sexier than baseball? Think about it. Sex and love. Balls and bats. The foreplay of a full count and the ecstasy of hitting the sweet spot. First, second, third, and home runs. Pitchers and catchers. The fresh cut grass, the ritual, the order, and the chaos. Makes sense to me. Truth be told and digging a little underneath the surface, Bull Durham does get all fancy thinking with its portrayal of Costner as the father figure, Sarandon as the mother figure, and Robbins as the son who is educated by both. The fact that Sarandon's character sleeps with the "son" does give the film a decided Oedipal twist and adds to the overall complexion of the film. With that said, it's a complexity that writer/director Ron Shelton does not get bogged down with. There are weighty issues of the heart and of loyalty shown here, but it all just feels so light, so effortless. In fact, if I were to compile a list of perfect screenplays, I would have to include Bull Durham right at the top. A former minor league ball player himself, Shelton set out to make a sports movie that felt real. To that end, if Bull Durham is anything, it's a real sports movie. Shelton's dialogue feels right and true. He manages the seemingly impossible task of writing words that are foul and off color while still being elegant and sly. From the wittiest zinger to the most heartfelt speech, I believed every word spoken. As a director, Shelton does an excellent job of not getting in the way of his words or of the performances. He has a nice way with the camera, which has since grown to considerable skill and he is helped greatly by the cinematography of Bobby Byrne (Sixteen Candles). There is an economy to his direction that I admire and works quite well. After all, this is hardly the kind of movie one looks to for directorial pyrotechnics. He shows what he needs to; nothing more and nothing less.
As anyone who enjoys romantic comedies knows, the key to being a good one is that the relationships are usually in the form of a triangle, so lets talk about one side of the three headed beast. Much has been written of Kevin Costner the past few years, very little of it being good. Certainly, he has not approached the level of stardom that he enjoyed in the late '80s and early '90s, yet, here in Bull Durham, everything that is good about him as an actor is on ample display. There is a strength, an intelligence, a weariness, and an inherent sexiness about him that is almost impossible to deny. If he does anything well, Costner shows Davis' love of the game and the frustration that he feels because of the great talent Robbins' LaLoosh possesses. It is a talent that combined with his love for the sport that could have taken Crash to the top, but instead he must be content to help this man-child develop, living vicariously through the other's achievement. With every move in this movie, Costner gives the kind of performance that Burt Lancaster used to deliver in his romantic roles. There is a zip and zing to his delivery, yet he never comes across as coy. His work as Crash Davis is honest, hard working, and believable. In addition to his acting, Costner also conveys the athleticism needed to make Crash work. There are flashier performances in Bull Durham, but none more solid and rooted in life than Costner's. I don't think he has been better before or since.
Susan Sarandon turns up the heat in a major way as Annie Savoy. Like Costner, she manages to be intelligent, innocent, honest, and sexy as hell. Her reasons why she does what she does each season may be shallow, but her motivation—the game of baseball—is as real as they come. At least it is to me. If Costner is fairly straightforward in what he does as Davis, Sarandon has a more difficult challenge. She somehow manages to juggle the roles of mother hen, unofficial sex mascot, and confused woman. We all have to live the life we give ourselves and Annie has an eye for talent and a sure fire way to stay away from commitment. It's why the romance that develops her and Davis is so full of charm and fear. Together they are taking a major step that will define them as people and as a pair both Sarandon and Costner dance this tango with subtle honesty.
The third side of this triangle is Tim Robbins as the wildly talented and just plain crazy Ebby "Nuke" LaLoosh. If Crash Davis has the respect for the game but not the talent, LaLoosh has all the talent in the world but not a clue as to what it means. His performance combines all that LaLoosh can be—obnoxious, naïve, sweet, and irresponsible. It's hard to be a jerk in a movie yet still be likable. In Bull Durham, Robbins pulls off this feat. Going into the film we all know Nuke and Annie are going to come together just long enough for Crash and Annie to dance their dance. It is a credit to all involved that even though we are aware of what the plot is going to dictate the movie still ends up being so fresh and so real.
It is tough to talk about Bull Durham and not mention the late Trey Wilson (Raising Arizona) and Robert Wahl (Batman) as the Bulls manager and pitching coach. Both are real characters unto themselves and both are very funny. Wilson left us far too early and its his work in films like this that make his loss all the more painful. Wahl continues to amuse to this day even if his "Arliss" character begins to wear a little thin. Here both are cast perfectly and add to the feel of the movie.
For Bull Durham, MGM has uncorked a nice little special edition. The highlights of which are the two commentary tracks. First up is writer/Director Ron Shelton with the commentary that was ported over from the previous laserdisc release, and second is a new track featuring Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins. Both are worth your time. Shelton's is the more technical of the two and also the one with the strongest opinions. Shelton's track features few gaps and he talks with the advantage of having several years gone by between this recording and when the film was produced. Perspective is a strong quality in audio commentaries and it is used to good effect here. For as informative as Shelton's track is the audio commentary, the Costner/Robbins track is flat-out warmer and much more entertaining. It really is the discussion of two people who sound like they really like each other and are watching a movie that holds a special place in their hearts. For Robbins, the affection is very much understandable. After all, this is the film where he met his wife-to-be Susan Sarandon and that relationship has been well documented. For Costner, well, I'm sure he is smart enough to see that his work here was something special and it was a film that really cemented him as a star. As noted, both tracks are great additions to this disc.
There is a short retrospective documentary feature on the disc, and it is here that we get to hear from Susan Sarandon as well as producer Thom Mount. There is some duplication from the commentaries, but not so much as to make it overly repetitive. There are also two short featurettes produced at the time of the film's original release and they are pretty much a waste of time. Closing out the special features are some trailers and a pretty nice photo gallery.
On the technical side of things, MGM has given Bull Durham a nice
looking anamorphic transfer. The print used was in pretty good shape, thus there
is little in the way of imperfections to annoy. Bear in mind that Bull
Durham was a fairly low budget affair, but still, the image manages to be
quite pleasing. There is a warmth to the video that makes it appear very
film-like. Colors appear accurate, while flesh tones look spot on. Darks are
solid while shadow detail is strong. Little in the way edge enhancement was
evident and over saturation was virtually nonexistent.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
"Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You'll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you'll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press'll think you're colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob."—Crash Davis
I love Bull Durham. Bearing that in mind I have one and only one complaint with the disc. One of my personal pet peeves with commentary tracks is when whoever is speaking makes reference to this deleted scene or that deleted scene and said deleted scenes are nowhere to be found on the disc. Please don't tell me what a great scene this was and then refuse to show it to me! This is probably the whining of a guy who spends way too much time watching movies and the extras so take it with a grain of salt if you want to. Otherwise, I'm pleased as punch that this movie is sitting on my shelf.
"The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self-awareness."—Annie Savoy
Like a rocket hit over the fence, Bull Durham blasted into movie theaters and into the hearts of Americans all across the country. It is also that rarest breed of movie; the one that remains as fresh and enjoyable as the day it was first released. One of the best sports movies ever made it is also a top notch romantic comedy. Bull Durham is given first class treatment by MGM and ranks as a movie that belongs on just about everyone's DVD shelf.
"Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days. Goodnight."—Crash Davis
Amen! I could not have summed up everything better myself. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Ron Shelton
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