Heroes of the Zeroes: The Rookie (2002)
Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.
When artfully employed, slow-motion sequences magnify an actor’s microscopic minutiae, the ticking gears of a well-internalized character.
Dennis Quaid has long defied age with his corn-fed physique, wavy hair and irrepressible schoolboy grin, and that full-wattage charm lit much of “The Rookie” — John Lee Hancock’s 2002 biopic about Jimmy Morris, a 35-year-old high-school baseball coach with a family who follows a deferred dream to be a big-league pitcher.
But in one of his greatest turns, Quaid puts nasty velocity and wicked movement on his delivery. When slowed, John Schwartzman’s camera tracks each pitch’s arc as captured in Quaid’s mind and face.
They begin with concern and morph into crazed confidence of mild snorts, full snarls and a wide-eyed attack mode of delight, determination and resentment for a dad (Brian Cox) who’s discouraged this dream.
Quaid’s physicality fits with the patient passion of this G-rated endeavor of complexity, grace and no fewer than four well-earned moments meant to diminish the manliest man to mush. (Quaid barely dams up the waterworks in one of them; you won’t be so immune.)
“The Rookie” also offers two great films in one, as Jimmy’s pursuit comes only after his cellar-dweller team chases a championship.
Baseball’s distracting gimmickry and demanding schedule can cloud a ballplayer’s love for it, and reality often freezes over youth’s aspirations. With emotional honesty and hardened realism, “The Rookie” is all about someone resurrecting a dream so urgent that he invested in it all he didn’t even know he had.