(This is a column where I review movies that I have never seen, but SHOULD have. Being a film Geek, I have seen a ton of films. But life is also very short, and for one reason or another, there are quite a few flicks that I have never got to. Sure, it probably doesn’t matter if I ever see a movie like PARENTAL GUIDANCE, but a movie like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA…. well, I should have seen that already. I’m a film geek for God’s sake! I have now decided that I should get on that before I get too old. I have compiled a list of films that I WANT or NEED to watch, and am going to start watching them when I have spare time. So I will randomly be posting reviews of movies that I have always wanted or needed to see. Enjoy!)
I remember seeing the trailers for this back when it first came out over 20 years ago (Christ, it’s been that long?!?), but never got around to seeing it. I was already a major film buff and a pretty big fan of John Goodman, so I’m kind of surprised that this was my first time seeing it. But maybe I stayed away because of the less-than-enthusiastic reviews. Or the fact that it’s directed by Arthur Hiller, who in my opinion, has always been a hack. But for some reason I was in the mood to see John Goodman (hopefully) act his ass off as the leading man in a dramatic picture, so I gave it a whirl.
I’m not really a big sports guy, but I DO know who Babe Ruth is, and you probably do too. That’s right, this is a biopic of the famous baseball legend who was best known for playing with the New York Yankees in the 1920’s. This movie isn’t a sustained look at one period of his life. It’s a full-blown look at his life spanning from when he was a troubled 7-year-old at a Catholic boarding school, up until when he retired from baseball in 1935. That’s a lot of history to cram into a film that runs just under 2 hours. We see Babe’s early start playing for Boston, then getting sold to New York. We get glimpses of his 2 marriages, his boozing, his messing around, his violent behavior, and of course, his iconic moments in sports history.
I have to give it to the movie for not shying away from the ugly side of Ruth. At times it seems like he’s portrayed as being some sort of monster or wild animal as he drinks a ton and gets in several fights. But he is also shown as a cuddly teddy bear, always spending money on others with a big smile on his face. Okay….. so he’s an out-of-control cuddly, teddy bear. The reason why you don’t outright hate the son-of-a-bitch is because of Goodman’s performance. He just has this likable demeanor. I did like him quite a bit in this. The make-up department not only did a fantastic job making him look like the famous ballplayer, but they did an equally good job convincingly aging Goodman throughout the picture. But there’s much more to his acting than just the make-up. Goodman REALLY DOES act his ass off here. He gets to show off all of the emotions, in a very caricaturish kind of way. It’s very big acting. I’m not complaining, though, as he was very entertaining to watch It’s a larger than life performance in a larger than life movie. The other actors aren’t quite on his level. Kelly “whatever-the-fuck-happened-to-my-career” McGillis is fine, but doesn’t have a whole lot to do as Babe’s second wife. There are other actors like James Cromwell and Bruce Boxleitner, but they kind of fade in and out within the film. But I did think Trini Alvarado gives some heartfelt work as Babe’s first wife. But the problem is that their characters aren’t well-developed.
This isn’t some realistic look at Babe Ruth, it’s a stylized highlight reel of his life. Which is part of the problem. I always get worried when I watch biopics, because they’re hard to do effectively. The reason is when you’re jumping around through someone’s life, it’s likely that important things will get overlooked or just slightly glossed over. The best biopics are ones that take a portion of someone’s life and just focus on that. There are exceptions, I think James Mangold did a fantastic job with Johnny Cash in WALK THE LINE. But the man behind the camera here is Arthur Hiller who went on the make the Tom Arnold disaster CARPOOL just 4 years later. However, this is far better than that picture, but no thanks to Hiller. He had lots of help. Besides Goodman’s dedicated performance, you also have some wonderful camera work by Haskell Wexler and a classic score by Elmer Bernstein.
There’s some great filmmaking here, especially towards the beginning. I loved the opening shots of Yankee stadium, as the camera swoops into the field. The look of the movie is terrific, perfectly capturing the time period. The production design is spot on. And the best scenes of the movie are the recreation of the historical moments of Ruth’s career, like when he hits 2 home runs for a dying boy, or pointing to centerfield right before he slugs one in that exact direction. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t something magical about those moments.
But…. the movie jumps around too much, especially in the second half. And since it does this, we still don’t really get to know Babe Ruth all that well. So, we know he has 2 kids, but we have no clue as to what his relationship with them was like. We also don’t see his relationships with either of his wife develop at all. Within 20 minutes, he falls in love with his first wife, and then grows apart from her. That’s not enough time to effectively capture a relationship arc. It would have also been nice to see how he got along with his team, other than just drinking with a bunch of faceless people at the bars. And on more than one occasion does the film get a little too melodramatic, especially during a moment when Babe’s fans turn on him and start throwing shit at him, which ends with Babe yelling at his fans. It felt a little too cartoony.
I am glad I saw this though. John Goodman’s performance does deserve to be seen. I just wish I could say that for the rest of the movie. It’s not a bad movie by any means. I appreciate its ambition. But it was just too short for it to successfully be an fully involving portrayal of a baseball legend. Close….. but no cigar. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated PG for rude language, some sexual situations, and for a scene of pre-teen alcohol/tobacco consumption (would probably be PG13 today).
– Running time: 1hr 54min.
(The DVD of THE BABE is available to rent on Netflix)