Now available on Blu-ray and DVD via RLJ Entertainment, The Phenom is a baseball movie that refreshingly breaks convention by not focusing on the sport itself. Instead , this subtly and evocatively rendered drama is a character study of the highest order, focusing on the little details that pushes talented and unassuming pitcher Hopper (Johnny Simmons) in a ton of different directions.
Though blessed with an arm that can throw a fastball with ease, Hopper is saddled with an abusive, convict father (Ethan Hawke, in one of his most unlikable roles) who pushes his son to constantly man up as a baseball player. Though the father believes his constant berating can only make his son a better pitcher and break him out of his funk, this type of parenthood is simply damaging.
Paul Giamatti is Dr. Mobley, a man who believes he has all the tricks of the trade as a medical practitioner to cure Hopper’s current insecurities. Pitching in the Major Leagues is big business, and though Dr. Mobley’s intentions are good, his main drive is to set Hopper back on the right track, even if it means withholding important information from his latest client.
The picture also features fine supporting work from the woefully underused Alison Elliott (The Wings of the Dove), who plays Hopper’s mom, and Sophie Kennedy Clark as Hopper’s understandably concerned girlfriend.
Though some viewers may deem The Phenom as a bit too slow and studied for its own good, writer/director Noah Buschel methodically builds his story for a purpose, as Simmons’ final moments with his father and doctor pack quite an emotional punch.
The Blu-ray comes with a special featurette which contains an interview with Johnny Simmons as he discusses the research and training that went into making The Phenom.
If you dig character based dramas that’s filled with solid performances (Simmons is understated and convincing as Hopper), then The Phenom should fit the bill.
****My Q&A with actor Johnny Simmons can be found on Find Your Seen.