Bull Durham

Director: Ron Shelton
Screenplay: Ron Shelton
Stars: Kevin Costner (Crash Davis), Susan Sarandon (Annie Savoy), Tim Robbins (Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh), Trey Wilson (Joe Riggins), Robert Wuhl (Larry Hockett), William O’Leary (Jimmy), David Neidorf (Bobby), Danny Gans (Deke), Tom Silardi (Tony), Lloyd Williams (Mickey McFee), Rick Marzan (Jose), George Buck (Mr. Laloosh), Jenny Robertson (Millie), Greg Avellone (Doc), Garland Bunting (Teddy Cullinane)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1988
Country: U.S.
Bull Durham Blu-Ray
Bull DurhamRon Shelton’s Bull Durham is the rare sports movie that understands the appeal of sports, but never feels the need to boil everything down to a “big game.” There are discussions of winning and losing in the film--many of them, in fact--but they are treated like most things in life, which is one small moment in a much larger parade. It is only in the movies that winning a single game means all the world; even the most dedicated sports fan who follows his or her team throughout a season and into the championship knows deep inside that there will be another season of victories and disappointments to follow, and that at some point the seemingly neverending glory of a single victory will become a blip in the history books.

All of that may make Bull Durham sound like a downer, but it is anything but. Using minor league baseball in North Carolina as its backdrop, it is only a few degrees twisted from being an out-and-out raucous sex comedy. You can feel Shelton, who was making his directorial debut after contributing to the screenplay for the political thriller Under Fire and writing the football comedy Best of Times (1986), playing the balance between slapstick, melodrama, and nostalgia, but it’s all held together by the central characters’ shared love of baseball and sex, and not necessarily in that order. When they talk about either or both, they do it with a sometimes vulgar, but always honest intensity that lets you know they mean what they say, even if the dialogue sounds way too good to be true (Kevin Costner’s now infamous speech about what he believes in being the best example).

The story is narrated by Susan Sarandon’s Annie Savoy, a woman who has made baseball her life after looking for fulfillment everywhere else (she claims to have prayed to Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan and even to Jesus when she discovered that there are the same number of beads in a rosary as there are stitches in a baseball). Each year she takes on a new member of the local Durham Bulls as her lover, and this year she sets her sights on the team’s new pitcher Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), a tall, oversexed, and dim-witted young buck who nevertheless works his way into our hearts via his sheer lack of guile (it is said that he has a million-dollar arm and a five-cent brain). To shape him up and bring out his true potential, the team brings in Crash Davis (Costner), a 12-year veteran of the minor league system who, in his early 30s, is on the verge of athletic old age and has no chance of breaking into the majors (in the parlance of the players, “going to the show”), but he can’t quit he game because he loves it too much.

Thus, Shelton sets up a love triangle of sorts with multiple intersecting conflicts, as Annie and Crash compete to shape Nuke (as Annie christens him) as a baseball wunderkind while Crash and Nuke compete for Annie’s attention. Crash and Annie clearly belong together because they are both articulate, intelligent independents who have a few years of wear and tear on them (which makes both of them that much sexier), but Annie can’t help but sweep Nuke under her wing and into her bed because he’s like an overexcited kid busting at the seams for structure (some of the movie’s funniest moments are when he starts to refuse sex because he fears it might ruin his rare winning streak). Shelton, who at one time played for the Baltimore Orioles’ farm team and has an ear for how athletes talk and the rhythms of life in the minor league, presents this trio of flawed characters with no apologies and lets them bump off each other, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. Each has his or her own bad tendencies (Crash can be too shrewd and self-absorbed for his own good, Annie can become too myopic in her self-created advisory role with the Bulls, and Nuke is just downright naïve), yet they are all deeply likable, even when they’re at their worst.

As a directorial debut, Bull Durham has a strong sense of place and character, even if the film’s style is fundamentally bland. That isn’t much of a deficit, though, as the performers pick up the slack and run with it (the lack of attention to any aesthetic flourish outside of a memorable soundtrack actually gives them more room to work). For many, this was Costner’s breakthrough, even though he had anchored Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987) the year before as the morally unbreachable Elliott Ness; Crash is far removed from Ness’s righteousness, but he is morally unbreachable in his own way, and Costner gives him just enough edge and grit to offset his preppy wardrobe and remind us that this is someone who has been around the block and may not have much to look forward to. As Annie, Sarandon channels all of her sexual and comedic energy and manages to turn what in other hands would have been a contrived tart into a woman whose authority is entirely her own, even when she’s breathlessly saying “Oh, my” at some man’s physical or verbal exploit (the fact that they both carry the same weight with her says quite a bit). And, of course, Tim Robbins, then a relatively minor actor with only a few major films to his credit, steals virtually every scene he’s in as Nuke, a character whose shallowness is its own sweet virtue. His physical abandon in the role, which at one point involves a dream sequence in which he’s pitching in slow motion wearing nothing but a jock strap and a garter belt, produces some of the film’s biggest laughs, although it is ultimately Shelton’s sharp sense of how these characters interact and improve each other (both knowingly and unknowingly) that gives the film its impact.

Bull Durham Blu-Ray +DVD Combo Pack

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish, Korean, Cantonese
  • Audio commentary by director Ron Shelton
  • Audio commentary by actors Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins
  • “The Greatest Show on Dirt: A Look Back at Bull Durham” featurette
  • “Diamonds in the Rough” featurette
  • “Between the Lines: The Making of Bull Durham” featurette
  • “Kevin Costner Profile” featurette
  • “Sports Wrap” featurette
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Distributor20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
    Release DateAugust 3, 2010

    Given that, visually speaking, Bull Durham is a low-key, relatively low-budget film, it is never going to look breathtaking in any medium, but I have to say that the 1080p high-definition transfer on this Blu-Ray has it looking as good as I’ve ever seen it. Colors remain relatively muted and the image is not particularly bright, partially because so much of the film takes place at night or inside of locker rooms, bars, and buses, but it is notable sharper and better detailed than the previously available DVDs, although black levels are more grayish than not. There is a definite presence of grain throughout the film, but it looks appropriate and is never distracting. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack keeps all of the film’s razor-sharp dialogue clean and clear and also gives plenty of space for the various rock and blues tunes that help keep the movie’s momentum rolling. It is nothing outstanding or particularly memorable, but it certainly gets the job done.
    The second disc in this two-disc second is a repackaging of the 2008 20th Anniversary Edition DVD, and with the exception of the original theatrical trailer, it is here that all the supplements are housed. We get two lively and informative audio commentaries, one by director Ron Shelton and one by actors Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins, and the only real disappointment here is that, in order to hear them, you have to watch the film in standard def on the DVD. There are also several good featurettes: “The Greatest Show on Dirt: A Look Back at Bull Durham” is a 20-minute retrospective on the film that features interviews with Shelton, a few of the minor cast members, and several sports writers, broadcasters, and coaches; “Diamonds in the Rough,” a 15-minute featurette about minor league baseball; and “Between the Lines: The Making of Bull Durham,” which runs half an hour and includes interviews with Shelton, Costner, Sarandon, and Robbins, among others. Also on the disc are a couple of featurettes from the original electronic press kit, including a two-minute profile of Costner and “Sports Wrap,” a three-minute summary of the movie.

    Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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