The Fan speaks to any purist’s heart and blackens it simultaneously. The film, which is based on a Peter Abrahams’ novel by the same title, opens with a beautiful verse of poetry about the game read by the film’s antagonist, being played by Robert DeNiro.
DeNiro’s character is an unlikeable, foul-mouthed, social outcast who pushes people to their limits, including his own kid. At the same time, he speaks to the game in a way that is, in fact, poetic at times. The actions he takes, throughout the movie, are a direct reflection of the people who love the game from a distance.
Part of the problem with impassioned fans can be that their zeal for the game blinds them to what they cannot comprehend about the people who live it. They are forever on the outside looking in, often times with more comprehension of the game itself than those who are privileged enough to sit in the dugout night after night. Gil’s character says, “I consider myself a baseball fan first and a player second, and in the game of baseball, the fans are what it’s all about.”
What fans like this don’t know is what, I believe, the deeper point of this movie is all about. Sure it’s a thriller with action film overtones, violence and dirty language, but it also speaks around the topic of baseball and about being a professional athlete. It’s about the social expectations and the immense pressures of the game. In fact, 19-time All Star and Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. was interviewed by the crew to learn how he managed simple situations that the average person takes for granted, like being in public with his kids.
When the two worlds collide on camera, you see how little fans and players truly understand about one another. One of the most poignant scenes in the film is when the player is talking to a person he believes is not a fan, about the expectations of the game. Wesley Snipes, who plays All Star slugger Bobby Rayburn, tries to explain:
“Let me tell you something man, the fans are like women. When you’re hitting they love you. When you’re not, they’d just as soon spit on you as look at you because they don’t understand that you’re the same person whether you’re hitting or your not. The only person you should play for is yourself.”
There isn’t much more we can tell you about this thriller without giving it all away but it is important to go away with knowledge that there is a disconnect between the type of fan portrayed in the film and the type of fan who is part of their baseball or softball community. Those on the inside will recognize it instantaneously. Having said that, with lines like, “That’s why baseball’s better than life. It’s fair” and “Positive things happen to positive thinkers”, it will be hard to rectify your emotions for Gil throughout the film. One way to balance it out is to go back to that poem the movie starts with and, having watched it through, give the words a read. You may be surprised by what you find.
One point to keep in mind going into the film is that it was shot while both the internet and cell phones were in their infant years. It was also a pre-9/11 era. Released in 1996, and likely filmed two years earlier, there were not security cameras on every corner and, though phones had become mobile, they had yet to lose their cords entirely. The tech of the film is actually quite advanced for the era in which it was shot.
If you’re looking for a baseball person’s film, this one might not make your list. The ball play is minimal at best and really just centers around the action at the plate. There are one or two guys who made their cameo appearances including former Padre and Phillies player John Kruk.
The film cost $55,000 to make and earned $6,271,406 opening weekend before dropping nearly 50% in revenue the following week. Filmed in San Francisco, the lead ball players have a never-ending battle over who should wear #11. Fun fact, in San Francisco the answer is no one does. The number was retired in honor of Carl Hubbell in 1944. The film also shows the team in the 3rd base dugout but the Giants sit on the 1st base side at home.
This film is definitely not for little ears or eyes and, unless you really enjoy a good old-fashioned suspense film, you probably won’t find much to enjoy about this one. It is not written for the purist but about those who don’t realize they aren’t.