Plot: Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) has made the rounds as a minor league catcher, but he has always been a solid player and known for his skills. His latest assignment has him joining the Durham Bulls, a Class A team with a real problem on their hands, a young pitcher with a rocket for an arm and oatmeal for brains, or so it would seem. The pitcher is rookie “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), who throws fast, hard, and can hit any mark he needs to, but his bad attitude and lack of focus hinder his performance. So, Crash has been called in to take LaLoosh under his wing as it were, to help him get control over himself, on the mound and off. But LaLoosh has no respect for the game and is more interested in the cash & fame, whereas Crash loves baseball above all other things, so the two have an instant clash. As Crash tries to settle the rookie down, a woman named Annie (Susan Sarandon) enters the picture, a woman who also wants to help LaLoosh, but in different ways. Soon enough, a love triangle is formed between the two players and Annie, which makes the process even tougher, of course. Can Crash mentor LaLoosh into respecting the game and what will become of Annie’s affections when all is said & done?
Entertainment Value: This is one of the best sports movies ever made, as it brings a high level of entertainment, but also has an authentic texture that few sports movies can even come close to. The passion for baseball runs through every scene of Bull Durham, but even if you’re not a fan of America’s pastime, you will appreciate the genuine feel the movie delivers. The narrative blends drama, romance, and comedy in an effective balance, but the movie is driven by the characters, rather than plot devices. This focus on characters bolsters the authentic feel, as the developments come across as natural and that enhances the material. The humor is organic with this approach, so it doesn’t feel out of place or forced in. I just love how the atmosphere of Bull Durham is so immersive, as so many sports movies are so contrived or try to shoehorn a generic narrative into a sports related world. The pace is efficient and keeps you hooked in, but feels relaxed and allows time for the characters to develop. This is done with great skill, as the pace is deliberate, but never feels slow or drawn out in the least. Bull Durham is a great movie that transcends the sports backdrop and should appeal to anyone who appreciates well crafted cinema.
As the movie is character driven, it needs strong efforts from the cast and this lineup comes through on all fronts. Kevin Costner is excellent here in one of his best turns, with a reserved, but effective performance. He is able to get across Crash’s worn down, but still driven persona and his intense passion for baseball, which is crucial to the role and the overall movie. If that passion feels forced or insincere, the entire picture would suffer, but Costner nails that aspect of Crash. I think he also hits the dialogue well, including some exchanges that could easily have come across as unnatural in the hands of a lesser performer. His scenes with Susan Sarandon have a unique brand of desire and romance, while his interactions with Tim Robbins are immense fun and some of the movie’s highlights. Robbins’ take on the wild LaLoosh could have gone over the top, but he keeps it reeled in just enough to avoid that, while letting the man child elements of the role shine through. Sarandon is also great as the seductress with a baseball fetish, so the leads here are just fantastic. The cast also includes Robert Wuhl, Trey Wilson, Jenny Robertson, and William O’Leary.