Saturday, September 3, 2016

[Review] The Phenom

Ethan Hawke, Paul Giamatti, and Johnny Simmons star in this low-key, unconventional flick that involves baseball--but isn't really about baseball. In fact, there's hardly a single pitch thrown.

The Phenom scouts the tendencies of a major league pitcher named Hopper Gibson (Johnny Simmons) whose anxiety causes him to hit a wall on and off the field. He's then sent down to the minors where he begins therapy sessions with a sports psychologist (played by Paul Giamatti). Turns out, many of his issues stem from his overbearing "piece of work" father (Ethan Hawke).

Hawke is beyond scummy here as a mentally abusive macho dude, donning a crew cut and trashy tattoos that stick out of his unbuttoned shirt. We definitely dislike the guy, but Hawke plays the part incredibly well. His chops are so riveting that he completely steals the show. Simmons is solid at the center, while Giamatti is believable in a role that surprisingly doesn't call for his trademark yell.

The film is a meditative slow-burn, rooted in underlying drama and character studies. It also poses some thought-provoking questions about types of upbringing, pressure, mental health, success and happiness (or lack of), as well as the inner-workings of the unique lives that professional athletes lead. The headiness is driven home with stylized zoom-ins and sequences with red tunnel vision.

No motivational speeches or heroic homeruns amidst flashing lights will be found here, but audiences searching for a decent curveball (sorry) may want to give The Phenom a shot.

( 7/10 )

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