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Review: The Phenom

The Phenom
06.24.2016
100%
7 10
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PLOT: A young major-league pitcher (Johnny Simmons) in the middle of a slump, sees a sports psychologist (Paul Giamatti) in order to figure out why he’s having so much trouble performing at the level he’s capable of.

REVIEW: Noah Buschel is an interesting young director. The guy behind THE MISSING PERSON and GLASS CHIN, THE PHENOM actually seems like a bit of a departure for him. Those other two films were notable examples of neo-noir, whereas this one is a straight-up drama, albeit with a certain element of suspense to it as Simmons’s pitcher-hero is called up to play in a major game, with the idea being that his career will be ruined if he can’t perform.

the phenom ethan hawke johnny simmons

Highly reminiscent of the baseball classic, FEAR STRIKES OUT, it doesn’t take long before we realize that many of Simmons’s problems are related to his difficult relationship with his low-level criminal father, played by a memorably mean Ethan Hawke. When not dealing drugs, this former baseball prodigy bullies his son into being the best pitcher in the world, constantly berating him any time he makes a mistake, forcing him to do endless physical drills, and even smacking him around when he thinks advice isn’t being taken. At one point, he also tries to bully Simmons into taking steroids and HGH, oblivious to the fact that even a whiff of something like that would destroy his career for good.

Simmons, who’s best known (amongst us fan boys anyway) from his role in SCOTT PILGRIM, makes for a likable hero. Despite his almost supernatural pitching talent, he remains humble, even if he’s shown to be wholly uninterested in anything outside of the sport, including school (with him not even knowing what a socialist is). The movie crisscrosses back and forth from his predicament as a professional player to his time as the top high-school pitching prospect in the country, with him struggling with the constant presence of his newly paroled dad.

the phenom ethan hawke

Giamatti’s part is confined to the present-day bits, where he tries to give Simmons back the confidence he lacks, with the specter of a dead former patient with the same psychological problem troubling him. Truly, it does feel like Simmons’s life and career will go down the toilet without him getting his game-face back, with his only comfort being a potential reunion with his former high-school sweetheart (Sophie Kennedy Clark) who’s been pinning for him since he ditched her upon being drafted by the majors.

While admittedly a small-scale movie, Buschel has a good eye, giving THE PHENOM crisp 2:35:1 visuals that make it seem like it cost more than it likely did. At ninety minutes, the movie rolls along at a solid clip, save for one or two extraneous scenes, including one bit where Simmons is robbed that didn’t really serve much of a purpose. As in his other movies, Buschel’s given some tiny but memorable parts to solid indie character actors, like Elizabeth Marvel, Marin Ireland, Paul Adelstein, and best of all, the always-great Yul Vasquez as Simmons’s kind, supportive high-school coach.

THE PHENOM probably isn’t the type of indie that’s likely to garner huge theatrical biz, but as a VOD rental it’s a very solid choice. It has a good little story and all of the performances are excellent. Buschel really is turning out to be a solid indie craftsman, and THE PHENOM is a nice example of his evolving style. I’m eager to see what he does next.

Source: JoBlo.com

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4:00AM on 06/25/2016
I really enjoy a good baseball movie! I'll have to check it out!
I really enjoy a good baseball movie! I'll have to check it out!
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