We have all seen those inspirational faith-based movies, and we have definitely all seen those family sports films about inspirational players from various times in history. Well, if you are looking for a combination of the two, look no further than “The Hill,” which came out in theaters on Aug. 25. This film tells a story based on the real-life story of famed baseball player Rickey Hill, who was a standout player in history because of the fact that he played the sport despite suffering from Degenerative Spine Disorder.
Famous actor of the silver screen, Dennis Quaid, stars as Rickey’s ultra-conservative father who was head pastor of a Baptist church in rural Texas. Quaid, along with his fellow co-stars, gives an A-plus acting performance that should have been enough to keep the audience fully intrigued. However, when the highbrow acting talent is used to cover up a screenplay filled with cliché after cliché and uninspired dialogue that lacks the nuance that makes its storytelling truly captivating, it can only go so far, and this film took it nowhere near far enough.
We begin the film following through Rickey Hill’s childhood, where he and his siblings sneak out to watch baseball on the TVs through the diner window, and he and his brother sneak off to hit rocks with sticks (since they don’t have baseballs or bats), despite their father’s strict rules against participating in the sport. It is a story we have seen time and time again, and it hits every stereotypical story beat that can be expected of a cheesy sports drama oversaturated with sappy emotional moments and the typical uplifting “big game” scene at the end.
For every moment of this film, everything that happens is to be expected and does not give any surprises. While that is not necessarily a problem in and of itself, it becomes a problem when those predictable moments are scenes we have all seen before in movies that are much more enjoyable. Never once do audiences feel for these characters in the way the storytellers want them to.
The pacing is inconsistent throughout the film as well. Certain scenes drag on for too long to try and allow the audience to feel intense emotions, such as sadness or fear, but the story never reaches the place to where it actually earns those prolonged emotional sequences. Even worse is when it spends about half of the runtime telling the story of Hill’s childhood, and then abruptly jumps forward to when he’s a young adult. Of all the moments in which to pick up the pace, the film does so in the one place within the plot that actually warrants a more steady pace.
For those who love a feel-good story of an underdog overcoming the obstacles of his upbringing to rise up and become a legend, then this may be the film for you. This film does avoid the awkwardly preachy tone that many films from Christian film companies fall victim to. It provides a perspective on a family dynamic in which the father uses scripture and Christianity as a form of punishment for his children. For example, if they sneak away or do something wrong, they must face their father and recite a Bible verse, and then their punishment is a lashing with a belt out back. This is probably a perspective that many unfortunately may be able to relate to, and therefore could give the film some justification for why it might be poignant or meaningful to some.
Overall, this film attempted to utilize a tried-and-true storytelling formula that has worked well for many other films of its kind, but forgot one key element to allow itself to stand out amongst the others: any sense of originality or ambition.