Bull Durham Review

The Film

Sports films tend, as a genre, to run the risk of only appealing to those who are interested in the sport depicted in the first instance. There are, of course, noble exceptions, such as Field of Dreams and Tin Cup, both of which had more than enough human interest to both of the plots to mean that they were charming and intelligent films, but the sheer number of films made about basketball and baseball that will be all but incomprehensible to a non-sports fan are legion. (Of course, when the British attempt to do a sports film, they end up producing something like True Blue or the remake of The Mean Machine, so they are hardly in a position to criticise American domination.) Bull Durham is, thankfully, in the former category of films, being a witty and occasionally moving romantic comedy that just happens to be about baseball.

The plot concerns a love triangle between three people; Annie Savoy (Sarandon), an English teacher and baseball fan who takes it upon herself to induct one player in the ways of sex and romance every year; 'Nuke' Laloosh, (Robbins), a player 'with a million dollar arm and a ten cent head', who becomes Annie's designated inductee; and 'Crash' Davis (Costner), a once great player who has seen his glory days pass him, and who has returned for one last shot at the minor leagues, even as he realises that he is beginning to fall in love with Annie, to Nuke's incomprehension. It's not exactly difficult to predict what therefore unfolds, although there are some surprises along the way.

Ron Shelton has been associated with the sports genre in virtually all his films to date, often with great success (apart from the lamentable Play it to the Bone), due to his ability to focus on the people, rather than simply the mechanics of the sport. This is just as well, as it's unlikely that most British people are likely to be especially enraptured by baseball, a sport that has been compared (with some accuracy) to 'rounders, but not played by girls'. Instead, the exceptionally witty script provides countless quotable lines, from the oh-so-accurate 'A guy'll listen to anything if he thinks it's foreplay' (Sarandon's character, on the poetry of Walt Whitman) to the immortal putdown 'The world was made for those people who aren't cursed with self-awareness' (Sarandon again, on Nuke). Even if the ultimate revelation of who she ends up with is about as predictable if they come, it's still a consistently enjoyable journey to one of cinema's few actually erotic sex scenes, albeit with some occasional questions inadvertently raised about the mental or moral state of a woman who would sleep with an indeterminate amount of men simply 'for love of the game'.

Although Costner has (decidedly laboured baseball analogy coming up...) been confined to the sidelines of late, with too many missed hits meaning that his career is all but in the pit, the film shows that, when on form, he can score as triumphant a success as anyone else; in one of his best performances, he charmingly portrays a man who has seen better days, but is still determined to make a success of his life. Sarandon is gloriously sexy (at 42, when she made this) as a more benign Mrs Robinson figure, and manages to bring a potentially frustrating character to life, and Robbins is very funny as the imbecilic Nuke, of whom it is aptly noted at one point 'You couldn't hit water if you fell out of a fucking boat'. Supporting performances are all fine, if overshadowed by the lead actors, and technical credits are acceptable if unremarkable.

Had this not been limited by needing to be 'a sports film', this might well have been one of the all-time great romantic comedies. Shelton is as good a writer of smart, pithy dialogue as Cameron Crowe or Kevin Smith, and it's a shame that he has apparently chosen to restrict his career to the ghetto of sports films so far (although his next picture, an adaptation of James Ellroy's story Dark Blue might change this); all the same, this is highly entertaining throughout, and certainly recommended for all Costner or Sarandon fans, albeit not in this version...

The Picture

MGM have provided a fairly pleasing, although unexceptional 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Colours are all strong, and there is no evidence of any noticeable print damage; all the same, the film occasionally looks a little drab, as if it was being watched through a pair of slightly unclean glasses. It's perfectly good, but not as strong as some transfers of the same era.

The Sound

A 5.1 track is provided, which is essentially a stereo track in disguise, so little does it use the surround effects. In fact, it's hard to think of any advantage that the English track has over the Surround-only foreign language tracks has, so limited is its aural range. Nonetheless, it's fine as far as it goes, with perfectly clear music and dialogue.

The Extras

The R1 version of the film features 2 commentaries (one by Shelton, and an apparently very funny one by Costner and Robbins), a making-of documentary, two featurettes, and other goodies. And what does the R2 have? A fairly pathetic trailer. Further comment seems irrelevant.

Conclusion

Acclaimed in America as one of the great sports film- and in some especially enthusiastic circles, as one of the great films- the reaction of those who have less interest in baseball is likely to be one of appreciation for the witty script and superb performances, rather than the reverential attitude towards 'the game'. MGM's DVD has OK-to-good picture and sound quality, and a complete absence of extras; the R1 has far superior extras, and is almost certainly likely to be a better bet. Trivia fans: in Costner's key speech about his character's beliefs, he states 'I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone'...Jim Garrison would not be amused!!!

Film
7 out of 10
Video
6 out of 10
Audio
6 out of 10
Extras
1 out of 10
Overall

5

out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 17:58:36

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