Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) is what you might term a baseball groupie. What she does every season in the minor leagues is pick a player to hook up with and take him through each game with her own philosophy that she believes turns them into a winner - and enjoys the sexual benefits of their company as well. It is the beginning of the season for the Durham Bulls, a North Carolina team, and Annie finds she has a choice to make between the younger, inexperienced pitcher 'Nuke' Laloosh (Tim Robbins) - a nickname he has given himself - and the older, wiser catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner)...
Bull Durham was the first of Ron Shelton's sporting movies as writer and director, taking as its subject minor league baseball which he had played in as a younger man, with the result that there are many who consider it not only one of the finest baseball movies ever made, but one of the finest sporting movies ever made. The trouble with sporting movies is that the element of chance so crucial to the excitement of the live event is hamstrung by the screenwriter's machinations, all in the service of constructing a satisfying yarn, but Shelton took a different approach while paying his respects to the game he so admired.
This was also Costner's first baseball movie, but the title of one of his later ones, For the Love of the Game, could just as easily have applied to this film. None of the players here are taking part to amass huge amounts of cash as in the major league, they're primarily doing it because, well, nobody has picked them for the more lucrative teams, and you know they'd jump at the chance if that were ever to happen, but also because they are truly passionate about the game itself, and in this romantic version of events, they will compete simply for the sake of it, being part of that world. This is something both Crash and Annie appreciate, and something that Nuke, at the beginning of the story, has yet to learn.
It could be that this speaks to the fans of baseball more than anyone else, but thanks to engaging performances from the leads, as well as strong support, even those who don't know the first thing about the sport will find aspects to attract them here. Those three actors playing out the love triangle were never better, with Sarandon's Annie perfectly summing up the film's approach to its subject, which is to intellectualise about its simple pleasures while never losing sight of the visceral energy that characterises it at its best. You can tell that for Shelton this was no job for hire, and his dedication to baseball imbues every frame, but that does not mean he neglects the human angle.
Does Annie encapsulate baseball itself, a loving mistress, or does she epitomise the players who give their careers to the game and are abandoned when it decides it doesn't need them anymore? Probably a bit of both, but she is still a free spirit for all that, and even acts as a coach to those she takes under her wing, but Crash remains resistant to her charms when he realises the type of relationship she has in mind. Neither of them are getting any younger, and we can see they are perfect for each other, as Nuke finds himself tutored by them both. All three tackle Shelton's excellent dialogue with flair, scoring some big laughs, but it's also true this verges on the shapeless as far as the plot goes, and if it were not for the loose structure of following the baseball season there would be a danger of Bull Durham being all over the place with its sentimental views of the game. Still, if it's not the best baseball movie ever, it's close enough. Music by Michael Convertino.
American writer and director with an interest in examining the male psyche, usually in sports movies like Bull Durham, Cobb, White Men Can't Jump, Tin Cup and Play It To The Bone. Among his other films are Under Fire (which he only wrote), Blaze, Dark Blue and Hollywood Homicide. He frequently casts Lolita Davidovich, his wife.