Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 23, 2018)
Although baseball movies generally donít move a lot of tickets, the genre enjoyed a minor resurgence during the late 1980s. Within a year of each other, Bull Durham, Major League, and Field Of Dreams all came out and all did respectable to good business.
Maybe the baseball movie actually did have some earning potential after all. The problem with this inference is that of those three films, only Major League truly qualifies as a true ďbaseball movieĒ.
By that I mean that it became the only one of those efforts that really concentrated on the sport. Major League presented the subject in a fairly farcical manner, but it still focused on the game itself.
For the other two films, baseball itself played an integral role but I don't think either movie used the sport as a focal point. Field of Dreams held the weakest link to baseball of the bunch, as it dealt more with relationships, especially in the way sports helps connect fathers and sons.
Bull Durham also really provides a relationship movie. For the most part, it concerns a classic love triangle, with all the struggles and pitfalls that come along the way.
Young pitching phenom Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) shows terrific promise but lacks control Ė in a variety of ways. To aid in his development, veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) gets sent to the minor league Durham Bulls to become LaLooshís mentor.
This leads to a contentious relationship, one that intensifies due to the presence of Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon). Every season, she chooses to romance one Bull and act as his muse. Annie selects LaLoosh, but her connection to Davis causes complications.
As noted earlier, I donít really see Durham as a sports movie. Sure, the world of minor league baseball acts as an integral part of the backdrop, but in much the same way An Officer and a Gentleman framed its picture with the reality of the modern-day military. No one thinks of An Officer and a Gentleman as a film about the military, so why should Bull Durham get classified as a baseball movie?
I think that's largely why Bull Durham worked at the box office, as itís a ďsports movieĒ in which the baseball aspects seemed incidental to the relationships between the three leads. It also helped that the movie was funny, charming, and honest, and that it was executed with a great deal of class.
To me, the foremost reason why the film fares as well as it does concerns the cast. Clearly a character-driven film such as this lives and dies with its actors, and from top to bottom, we get excellent performances.
As Crash, Kevin Costner offers perhaps his most relaxed and self-assured performance. Watch Bull Durham and you can recall what made him a star in the first place.
Susan Sarandon does the miraculous with her role as Annie Savoy. With
Costner's Crash Davis, there was some chance that he could come across as mean-spirited or harsh, but the script minimized these possibilities to a fair degree.
However, as written, Annie not only could have been but probably should have been insufferable. With all her pretensions and self-importance, Annie seems completely unappealing in the abstract.
However, such are Sarandon's gifts that she can take this genuinely obnoxious character and make her fairly charming and ingratiating. To be frank, I'm still not wild about Annie, but I certainly respect Sarandon's ability to avoid what could have been.
Tim Robbins' character of simple-minded pitching phenom LaLoosh seems to be the easiest to portray of the three leads, if just because he's in the film the least and because the character is supposed to be more "one-note" and basic than the others. Nonetheless, Robbins infuses his performance with a genuineness that easily could have gotten lost along the way.
Bull Durham remains one of the best baseball-related flicks ever due to the vivid characters and the crisp and realistic portrayal of life in the minor leagues. Itís an entertaining and witty look at relationships that has aged very well and offers a consistently delightful piece of work.