“The Natural” is an impeccably made, but quite strange, fable about success and failure in America. Robert Redford plays an aging rookie who takes the baseball world by storm in one season while dealing with demons from his past and present.
While remaining faithful to Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel in many regards, scenarists have drastically altered some major elements. Film thereby has become the story of the redemption of a born athlete whose life didn’t unfold as anticipated.
Opening sequences present farmboy Roy Hobbs showing natural skill as a ballplayer and, upon the death of his father, carving his own magical bat, dubbed ‘Wonderboy’ from the wood of a lightning-struck tree.
Some years later, Hobbs, now in the person of Redford, leaves for Chicago, and raises the eyebrows of ace sports-writer and cartoonist Robert Duvall when he strikes out the majors’ greatest hitter (Joe Don Baker) in an impromptu exhibition.
Redford is perfectly cast as the wary, guarded Hobbs. The female characters leave behind a bad taste, however, since they schematically and simplistically stand for the archaic angel-whore syndrome. Whenever he goes for harlots like Barbara Hershey or Kim Basinger, Redford is in big trouble, from which he must be rescued by Glenn Close.
1984: Nominations: Best Supp. Actress (Glenn Close), Cinematography, Art Direction, Original Score