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Dustin Putman

The Phenom  (2016)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
2 Stars
(Release Date: August 30, 2016) – A character study focusing on a young man's struggle to get out of his own head and recapture the love he once had for the game of baseball, "The Phenom" has several affecting performances and some creatively choreographed cinematography by Ryan Samul (2015's "Dark Was the Night"). What it doesn't have is a fully realized screenplay to bring home its intimate story. Johnny Simmons (2013's "The To Do List") finds plenty of emotional nuance in his front-and-center role as Hopper Gibson (Johnny Simmons), a Major League pitcher who finds himself downgraded to the Minors when the loss of control in his arm begins to cost his team games. As sports psychologist Dr. Mobley (Paul Giamatti) begins to explore Hopper's deep-seated issues, scenes set during his high school career—when he was the #3 ranked prospect in the country, frequently intimidated by his domineering, abusive father (Ethan Hawke)—reveals what may very well mark the troubling genesis of his future hang-ups.

Running a brief 87 minutes and ending abruptly at a point when one assumes the third act is still approaching, "The Phenom" lacks cohesion and the necessary connective moments that turn a promising yet potentially undernourished narrative into a three-dimensional whole. The structure is disjointed, with flashbacks to Hopper in high school calling such little attention to themselves it is easy to assume—and as a result, grow confused when—they seem to be a part of the chronological timeline. Certain dialogue exchanges, including the final one between Hopper and Mr. Mobley, hold an archness to their words that isn't entirely believable. Supporting characters, like Hopper's supportive mom Susan (Alison Elliott), English teacher June Epland (Elizabeth Marvel), and blisteringly honest TV reporter Rachel Cullum (Marin Ireland), show up and just as quickly disappear without proper arcs. Alongside Johnny Simmons, Paul Giamatti (2015's "San Andreas") gamely does all he can with the relatively thankless part of Dr. Mobley, and Ethan Hawke (2016's "Regression") is spitefully riveting yet far from one-note as demanding, untrustworthy, clearly jealous dad Hopper Sr. "The Phenom" doesn't exactly round its way to a satisfying conclusion so much as it settles on a last scene and cuts to credits, leaving the film feeling curiously unfinished. There is a stronger, deeper, fuller motion picture to be made from this material. Earnest though it is, this one is decidedly far from phenomenal.

Read Dustin's Theatrical Review

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"The Phenom" sparks to visual life in the rare scenes set on the baseball field, finding a dimensionality and vividness of color (particularly green and brown) lacking from the rest of the picture. Overall, the film's 1080p transfer is passable but unexceptional. The image is sharp enough to clearly be HD, but soft enough that fine details in faces, fabrics and surfaces are often lost. Depth often falls on the flat side. Black levels are additionally just okay, with signs of crush in darker moments. With all of this being said, the straightforward, no-frills aesthetic works well with what is first and foremost a small character piece. Just don't expect to be wowed. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is capable but also not very thrilling. Dialogue is well-modulated and clear, and there are a few brief moments of surround activity when Gibson takes to the field. Otherwise, the sound is front-heavy and never calls attention to itself. Then again, this latter point means it hasn't done much wrong, either.

Blu-ray Features
  • "The Cast of The Phenom" Featurette (9:28, HD)
  • Production Stills
  • Behind the Scenes Stills
Bottom Line
"The Phenom" pitches its way to Blu-ray courtesy of RLJ Entertainment. The disc itself is light on extras (though there is a featurette including interviews with the cast that goes beyond typical EPK fodder), but fans should be satisfied the film has come to the format. Those expecting a standard baseball movie full of rousing moments on the field as the crowd goes wild will be in for a disappointment; this is a low-key drama that just happens to be able someone who plays baseball. The movie means well, and features a few nice performances, but whether it is wholly successful is up for debate. Because of this, it would be wise to give it a rental first.

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© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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