This good-hearted baseball drama makes some home-runs, even if this kid shouldn’t run.
“The Hill” isn’t a perfect baseball movie, because it has its rules, especially if it’s in a faith-based genre. The rules regard how certain things have to be judged as unholy and there also has to be would-be belt whipping moments. But……the movie does have its heart in the right place, and overcomes the cynicisms of how Rickey Hill became a baseball star, despite his spinal disease condition.
Starting in the early 60s, we meet young Rickey Hill (newcomer Jesse Berry), whose strict pastor father James (Dennis Quaid) refuses to let him play baseball, especially with his condition. Even if the boy miraculously walks normal, and even if the coach sees that he has become a perfect swinger, it becomes very difficult to convince his father to let him play. Unless….. unless he can share his devotion to both God and baseball.
Years later in his teens in the 1970s, Rickey (Colin Ford) becomes a high school baseball star. His father hasn’t seen him play. Not once.
But the worst part is that playing has damaged his condition further, and maybe an expensive operation can fix it. But at this very moment, his doctor says it would be a miracle if he could walk again. This does not bode well for Rickey, considering that he wants to enter the major leagues.
We also see his childhood Gracie, who always joked about his cheating, given his condition, called him her boyfriend, and had to deal with her drunken redneck father. In their teens, she returns to his life to fill an empty hole in her life, and to help give Rickey hope.
The cast also includes Bonnie Bedelia (NBC’s “Parenthood”) as Rickey outspoken grandmother, who often stands up for her grandson, country singer Randy Houser as Ray Clemons, the man who always believed in the boy, and Scott Glenn as Red Murff, the MLB scout, who discovers him.
The screenplay for “The Hill” was written by Angelo Pizzo (“Rudy,” “Hoosiers”) and the late Scott Marshall Smith (“Men of Honor”). Why would I be praising a faith-based sports drama with some of its formulas? Because I can see when it has its heart in the right place, and wants us to root for this kid to make it through the sport and whatever obstacles his conditions places him in.
The performances I did admire come from Ford, Quaid, and Bedelia, because of how they merge with the pathos. Ford, whom I really enjoyed in “Disconnect,” has magnetism as the teenage Rickey. Quaid meets well with age as the father, who has his qualities and difficulties, when it comes to adjusting to new changes within his family. And Bedelia, who is unrecognizable here, uses her words wisely as the grandma.
I’m disappointed that the Yogi Berra documentary “It Ain’t Over” failed to make a profit at the box office, because it was a smart and emotional experience for me and my baseball fan father when we saw it together. “The Hill” doesn’t exceed that current baseball movie, but it does know when to swing the bat when the pitcher throws the ball. It does make two strikes, but it swings on the third try.
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes.