Bull Durham (1988) Directed by Ron Shelton. With Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.
Headed up by the star power of Kevin Costner, Bull Durham is a romantic-drama set in the world of minor league baseball. The debut of writer-director and sports fan, Ron Shelton, the film was a moderate hit when released in 1988 ($50m box office). While Costner takes top billing, it’s from Susan Sarandon’s perspective that Shelton speaks, who plays a Walt Whitman quoting fan of the Durham Bulls, caught up in a love/sex triangle with two players – Crash Davis (Costner) and the talented, but wayward ‘Nuke’, played by Tim Robbins.
The film begins with Annie (Sarandon) explaining why she chose baseball over religion. Indeed, there’s a weighty subtext here, in which Shelton offers sport up as an alternative to religion – among other things, we witness a wedding on the baseball park. You can delve deeper into it – there’s a ‘no sex before baseball‘ development woven into the plot, as Tim Robbins realises he performs better if he lays off getting laid – much to Sarandon’s frustration. Tied up with the fellowship and group spirit of worshipping the God of the bat and ball, the similarities with religious commitment would be obvious without Shelton pushing them to the fore.
In-between the standard fare of bar room scuffles and locker room dressing-downs, there’s a lot of machismo between the more experienced Costner and a Scrappy-Doo Robbins. Some of it works, while some of it’s let down by Robbins, who struggles to convincingly play the role of the knuckle-headed prodigy, especially with Costner and Sarandon on top form either side of him.
As aforementioned, the film belongs to Sarandon, who dominates the men in a male dominated world. Funny, intelligent and sexy – if it weren’t for her lively presence, the film might disappear under the weight of cliché and its seen-it-all-before sports plot. While it might not be a home run, it’s still engaging enough, with a core of romance and love of the “greatest show on dirt“. 3.5/5