Favorite Fictional Characters, #10: Roy Hobbs, The Natural
The Natural has long been my favorite baseball movie (in a dead heat with Major League, more on that later). Bull Durham is fine, but I've always found Field of Dreams too slow and saccharine. The Natural was beautifully shot, and builds with a slow burn toward a climax that never fails to deliver a chill. Redford's laconic underacting is perfectly suited to the simmering farmboy Hobbs, and the supporting cast is largely great, including Wilford Brimley's grumpy "I should have been a farmer" manager and Robert Duvall's muckraking sportswriter. Barbara Hershey is decent as the mystery dame, though Glenn Close is miscast as the old flame. It's a wonderful movie, and I've enjoyed it so much that a few years back I sought out Bernard Malamud's original novel that inspired the film.
As Harry Caray might have said, holy cow! The bones of the story that made it to the screen are there, but it's a far more textured tale, far darker, and far more morally dubious. Roy Hobbs is a hero, sure, but one with feet of clay. Mud, even. It was a brutal read, even given Malamud's narrative skill. His characters are grittier, far less glossy and noble than the film versions. It's an upsetting experience. Had I read the book without having seen the movie, it might rank as one of my favorite novels. As it is, it served more as an expose, a kind of shattering takedown piece of one of my favorite fictional characters. The only question is whether I'm able to shelve the book and remember Roy Hobbs as the brave, determined creature Redford portrayed.
I wouldn't bet against me today.