‘The Natural’ (1984)

‘The Natural’ (1984) In spite of the A-list stars — Glenn Close, Robert Redford and Kim Basinger — Barry Levinson creates a great film in his adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s 1954 novel, ‘ The Natural ‘. Adapted from for the screen by Robert Towne (‘ Chinatown ‘ (1974), ‘ The Firm’ (1993)) , Levinson manipulates these high-dollar performers like the actors in a Cassavetes film — the characters they play are caricatures of the performers themselves.

Redford is the faded golden-boy; Basinger is the Monroe-like gold-digger to his DiMaggio; Close plays the homely high-school sweetheart who ultimately redeems him. Losers all, but each character has a comprehesible motivation. These three cannot be reduced to type: their role are too human, too much like normal people to whom unfortunate things sometimes happen.

There is a strong skein of Wim Wenders in Levinson’s manipulation of the scene – the shooting locations take on characters character roles and Levinson has a marked preference for drama over spectacle and allows for long moments of silence.

A small film becomes a large one by virtue of it’s psychological depth. Malamud, Towne and Levinson evoke a mythology here that plays somewhere between the Old Testament and Magical Realism. The references are both literary and popular — there are literally smoking guns, prodigal sons, parentless children, wounds-in-the-side and lots of Golden Bough . While many of these symbols and referents may amount to nothing more than McGuffins, they open up the film and allow up to move from act-to-act; rather than the too familiar chronicle of a faded star, the story becomes a playground or rhizomatic connections – a rich loam of competing narratives – sports biopic, religious allegory, romance and suspense film – each vying for a spot at the finish.

Credit here certainly also goes to Robert Towne for his economy – writing what only needs to be said and not burying the important activity in the supernumerary cast members.

‘The Natural’ is a modern fairy-tale, complete with healthy doses of noir.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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