I didn’t want to spend a tone of time today finding the right words to talk about the recent suicide of director Tony Scott. So for now, this is a re-posting of a review I wrote about one of his movies, The Fan, for my blog Lit Bases. I’ll give Scott his props in another day or two, because I want to say something more instead of merely re-posting a negative review I gave to a bad movie he made.
I’m not sure how I’m thought of by my readers. This blog is about baseball books, so it’s probably easy to type the web address into the search bar, visit Lit Bases, and wonder how obsessed I am with baseball. But if anyone has been reading my personal blog, The Windy Nickel, they might be starting to realize that I have a legion of interests that have nothing to do with baseball. I’m also into writing (so yes, I really am this good when I write about other subjects too; I originally created my name online by reviewing video games, which I did for a respected independent site for seven years), bicycling, photography and filmmaking, and I was deeply involved in political activism for awhile before learning that being politically active requires keeping one’s mouth shut and his head up his ass. I travel when I can and have been a volunteer for a number of organizations. Baseball isn’t even my primary reading interest; I started reading baseball books as intellectual downtime between books that are harder for my head to digest, and Lit Bases came about because I see baseball books as a comfy niche. If you’ve been REALLY paying attention to my posts in this blog, in fact, you know baseball isn’t even my favorite sport – that would be hockey.
Baseball is, however, a big part of my life because watching and following it helped me interact with people when I began trying to shed my status as a social outcast a decade ago. It was a big sport in my school; big subjects for student debate included abortion rights, which are never really far from the frontline; the war on terror, which began during my second semester; and whether or not MLB should have a salary cap. I began watching Saturday baseball – the Yankees on Fox and the Mets on the WB – and so whenever I heard people nearby discussing Jason Giambi’s ability to crush every ball in sight or Roger Clemens make competent batters flail gracelessly, I was able to interject with my own opinion and was welcomed into conversations I would have ignored before.
I’m saying this because after watching The Fan, I felt a need to say something about how baseball has been a positive contributor to the person I am now. It helped make me from a guarded social outcast who snapped at people who said anything to me into a more outgoing person who can hold his own in a crowd. The Fan would have you believe that all people with any interest in baseball are pathetic nutcases who morph into ranting pack hunters at the ballpark. Even exempting Robert De Niro’s character, Gil Renard, nearly everyone shown in the ballpark crowd scenes is there to unleash their inner beast.
A certain story about sports fandom always stuck out in my head: I once read that a fan of the Houston Oilers killed himself after the famous Miracle Comeback game, in which the Oilers ran up a 32-point lead by the third quarter and managed to lose the game anyway. This is clearly an effect of a more negative kind of fandom, and I think The Fan is trying to come off as a bit of an examination of this kind of fandom. In this respect, it fails epically because Gil is established as a real wackjob from the get go. Watching him is akin to watching Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining: There’s always a bit of a psychotic glimmer in his eye and so trying to establish him as the ordinary guy who flips out simply doesn’t work. You would have to be out of your own mind yourself in order to believe Gil is simply an ordinary guy with a slight excess of love for his favorite baseball team, the San Francisco Giants. Even the people who follow their teams the closest usually have a sense of proper priorities and perspective. Gil skips an important work meeting for opening day, calls into the local radio show regularly to rant, and is issued a restraining order early in the movie for not bringing his son back to his home with his mother in time. Now really, how many baseball fans do you know have gotten issued restraining orders?
Gil also works as a hunting knife salesman. You can guess where this is going.
The Giants in The Fan are going to have a special season because they just signed a $40 million player named Bobby Rayburn. Rayburn is Gil’s favorite player, and Gil constantly calls into the local sports talk show to talk about why Rayburn is worth so much. Rayburn has to give up his number 11 to another player, Juan Primo, and he isn’t happy about it. Rayburn is supposed to be the good guy in The Fan, but he comes off as spoiled and a whiner who is unconcerned with anyone but himself, so most people aren’t going to relate to him, either. So to reiterate the basic fact: Your two main characters can’t be related to and are unlikable.
The only way the script tries to create a connection between the audience and the main characters is to give them both children. The relationship between Gil and his kid is something the script apparently doesn’t care to decipher. I couldn’t tell if there was any mutual love between the two or if it was an unreciprocated affection by the father for the son. There are times when the son appears to get along just fine with Gil, but others – before the restraining order – in which he appears to be afraid of Gil. Rayburn gets along with his son, Sean, just fine. One of the pivotal plot points in The Fan revolves around Gil kidnapping Sean and Sean appears at first to be trying to befriend Gil. Sean doesn’t appear to have his danger detector on until Gil takes him to visit his old friend Coop.
Anyway, Rayburn goes into the worst slump of his career while Primo picks up Rayburn’s slack and leads the team. Gil, long an admirer of Rayburn, hates that and takes matters into his own hands to get Rayburn to wear his original number 11 again. He tries to reason with Primo, and when that doesn’t work out, he kills Primo. The killing scene is director Tony Scott at his worst, slow motion and quick cross cuts as a way of covering up the fact that there really isn’t that much substance to the scene. Scott can hardly be blamed a whole lot, though, and given the way The Fan plays out I’m tempted to place more blame at the feet of Peter Abrahams – who wrote the book The Fan was based on – and Phoef Sutton. Maybe Sutton was being asked to stretch a bit much, because most of his screenwriting work takes place on TV.
As if that wasn’t enough, the climactic scenes destroy any sense of disbelief and plausibility The Fan might have carried. The weak source material means poor Tony Scott, who can be a solid action director given the right material (his best known movies are probably Top Gun and Enemy of the State), is stuck trying to use a deluge rain as the movie’s pivotal moment of suspense. This isn’t a light, misty rain here; this is a full-on drenching that might drown a fish. And there is a baseball game being played right in the middle of it! We’re also asked to believe this despite the fact that the local law enforcement – which knows full well that Sean has been kidnapped and might be killed if the game is delayed – has neglected to fill in the details to the umpires or the other team. The pitcher in that climactic game is also not pitching to Rayburn, and this is important because Gil want Rayburn to hit a home run for him, or else he’ll kill Sean. It’s certainly easy to understand that Rayburn needs to be pitched to so he can hit that home run and save Sean, it’s also tough to not place yourself in the shoes of the pitcher who thinks Rayburn is just an egomaniac looking to inflate his numbers Barry Bonds style.
I can’t let off Scott that lightly, though, because his musical choices for the score are interesting to say the least. Suspenseful, slow melodramatic pieces combined with Rolling Stones songs. Seriously.
There’s no sufficient explanation as to just why Gil is so obsessed with Rayburn. The movie sort of lets him descend into his madness – as much as an already overtly obsessed person can descend into madness, anyway – but the montage that closes out The Fan shows that Gil has been cutting out articles about Rayburn and hanging them on his wall, interspersed with a handful of articles about his own little league baseball heroics. The little league articles explain why he tracked down his old friend Coop, at least to a point, but Gil’s little league dominance really flies out of left field. Since the connection between that and his obsession with Rayburn is not explained, well, Gil still just comes of as a psycho.
Is this what we get for letting an Englishman direct a movie revolving around baseball? We could call it a small measure of revenge – baseball does, after all, have its roots in the English games of Rounders and Cricket, and we did bastardize it, as those in England frequently point out to Americans who broach the subject. I’m not sure I would call The Fan one of the worst movies of all time, but you could probably place it in the bottom ten percent of the worst. It is most certainly one of the worst movies about sports I’ve ever seen.