We've reached the end of The Mag.Com's Bull Durham Week. (The actual 20th anniversary of the film is this Sunday.) After interviews with Ron Shelton, Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner—as well as reflections from Mag senior editor Jon Scher and a gallery of movie-related pics—we turned to Chicago-based movie critic Richard Roeper—a "thumb" with Rogert Ebert since 2000—to put Bull Durham in the proper context. He shared more, like an appreciation for Paul Newman's fur coat in Slap Shot, his horror upon reading Ball Four and a take on Nuke's professional equivalent.
The Mag: When this came out, you were just starting your column. Do you remember some of your initial impressions of the film?
Roeper: I've always been a huge movie fan, obviously, and a huge baseball fan. The sad part is, there are more bad baseball movies than good ones. The things that stood out about this film right off the bat were how much it knew about baseball. I didn't know Ron Shelton at the time, but you could tell immediately he knew the game. You could even tell by the terminology of the players. Another thing they did which was something a lot of filmmakers haven't done, they found guys who could truly play baseball.
Is Bull Durham really a "sports movie" or is it something else?
All the best sports movies, they have to be about more than sports. Nowadays, because they can film sports scenes and make them feel authentic and use the CGI for crowds and sort of fake that actors can play the sport—but through all that stuff you need characters you care about. But, if you don't have characters people care about, you've got nothing. Look at Rocky. Why are we so invested in that final fight, which is just eight minutes of a movie? Because we care about him. It's the same with Crash, Nuke and Annie. The movie is a romantic comedy; people might argue with me saying this, but in a lot of ways, it's as much of a click flick as a guy's movie.
Then we find out Robbins and Sarandon got together on the set and it takes it up a notch.
And they're still together 20 years later! That's an eternity in Hollywood. What's funny is, if you look at that movie and you don't know anything about the people in it, you'd probably think Costner and Sarandon are going to have a one- to two-year romance off-set and then both move on. Obviously Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon have a tremendous amount in common politically and otherwise and they've lasted for a long, long time.
Who's the best muse: Sarandon in Bull Durham, Rosie Perez in White Men Can't Jump or Rene Russo in Tin Cup?
Immediately, I narrow it down to Sarandon and Russo, because Rosie Perez in that movie makes you want to leave the house and never come back. Sarandon is good, but Russo is pretty great in that movie. She may be the best of the three.
What parallels do you see between life as an entertainer and life in baseball?
Oh, they definitely exist. Hollywood will forgive you, like baseball, for a three-game losing streak if you're a director or major star. After that, you better hit a home run. That's why you read Eddie Murphy is going to do Beverly Hills Cop 4. He's looking for the pitch that got him to a Hall of Fame in the first place.
And with a director…
Look at Shelton's career. Sports movies, historically, did not do that well. He was the guy who kind of resurrected the smart, successful sports film.
We asked the major players about where these characters would be 20 years later. Shelton and Robbins both talked about Nuke being down on his luck, but still having potential. Where do you see Nuke in 2008?
(laughs) He has a little bit of Doc Gooden in him. He wins 117 games, loses 114. One Cy Young, traded six times, suspended three. Some big contracts, but back in bankruptcy court for not filing his earnings from card shows.
Since Field of Dreams, Major League and Bull Durham all came out, has anything been added to the baseball canon?
There's been some decent baseball films—I liked The Rookie, for one as a story—but it's not in the league with those. They are classics, and Bull Durham holds up, it's the minor league experience which is still the same for other players. But it's like Slap Shot, I see that the other day and Paul Newman's walking around in a fur coat and checkered pants, but it still works.
You're a White Sox fan: who do you think would be better for them right now, Ozzie (Guillen) or Crash Davis?
Crash wouldn't put up with all that (expletive). Ozzie is a strangely appropriate fit for the Sox at this moment.
What's your favorite scene in the movie?
With sports movies, when you think about them, you tend to think of lines. This movie has some great lines: the "What I Believe" speech. Or when he's on the bus talking about his 21 days in the show. I love the scene on the pitching mound talking about the wedding gift. The scenes with the banter are great.
One of the things I like the most is that the movie shows the truth about athletes. Most movies don't; the only other one I can think of is North Dallas Forty. These guys are like overgrown kids! It's like reading Ball Four and realizing Mickey Mantle was a peeping tom. It's like "WHAT THE?" (Laughs) It's just eye-opening.
So where does it rank all-time in terms of "sports movies" and movies?
The last five to six years, there's been a formulaic sports movie. Some are well done—Remember the Titans, Glory Road—and it all comes down to a ball in slow motion at the end, going through some type of net, everyone celebrates. It's a great ending and you go to the credits. That's not what happens here. It's a bittersweet movie; there's a melancholic feel throughout. The entire sports concept of the movie is bittersweet—Crash breaking the minor league HR record is perfect for that. It's sad. The real "home run" in this movie is the girl. It's definitely one of the Top 10 sports movies of all-time.
Starting out then, and now 20 years later, have you personally gone from Nuke to Crash?
It's funny because I had a poster of Bull Durham a long time ago and I just re-did my sports room, and I had to get a new framed Bull Durham poster. And the themes in the poster, I think back; it's like the perfect thing, you got Costner sitting on the mustang with a baseball bat, a beer in one hand and a hot chick in the other. It's the ultimate American Dream right there.
And it's the ultimate dream wrapped in misery if you know you'll never leave the minor's.
Yeah. That's the ultimate American nightmare that you wake up to after you've had the ultimate American dream.