The best thing about this film is a new young actor named Jesse Berry, who carries this film. I’ll be keeping an eye on his career.
This is his first movie, by the way. The film is non-linear. It’s Formulaic. It’s Cliched, and I hate to say it, but it isn’t very exciting. Berry plays the young Rickey Hill, who, like many kids his age, wants more than anything to play baseball. He already has his eyes on the pros. Sadly, he has a degenerative spinal disease, making it impossible for him to walk without braces. Even though he can manage to get around, it isn’t without pain.
He lives with his mother, Helen (Joelle Carter), grandmother (Bonnie Bedelia), his brother Robert (Mason Gillett), and his father, James (Dennis Quaid), who’s a pastor. They move from one small town to the next rural burg because their rigid father can’t keep his parish happy enough to be welcomed to stay. His children are hungry and starving for friends to keep, but the heavy-handed preacher is moving from church to church because he’s seen as too stern.
This is based on the true story of Texan Rickey Hill. In this childhood story, he wanted to pursue his dream of playing baseball, no matter how many “no’s” and “I’m sorry’s” were said to him. His ambitions were always encouraged by his older brother, who supported him all the way.
Though the film has moments of inspiration, Rickey’s father was horrible to his son, knowing that if he kept the idea of being able to eventually play out of his mind, he’d never have terrible disappointments. Not a good way to prepare for life. And as a father and a pastor, James may preach about God’s miracles to his parishioners, but he never encourages his son to try. What if he pulls through?
There are several scenes of young Rickey playing with a stick and a rock, shocking people with how good he is at hitting. In fact, there are way too many of these scenes. We get the point; there is no need to keep pounding at the issue. Anyway, little Rickey goes to his father, begging his dad to allow him to play. He broke a man’s windshield by hitting a rock across a field and over trees. This man becomes his pal and advocator. The child is impressive, a prodigy. A coach has seen him hit and believes Rickey could be the best someday.
Knowing his physical ailments, James is of the opinion that his son has a different or a higher calling. He says no to the coach; he says no to ambition. After forbidding Rickey, that is the end of the discussion. The boy is full of love for the game. His heart bleeds to swing a bat.
His cold-hearted father’s attitude toward letting him try is agonizing. Rickey uses scripture to plead his case, but James doesn’t bend. He doesn’t want him disappointed when he grows up and he’s living on the streets. Rickey’s mother challenges his authority, but James won’t concede. He also never goes to watch him play. That may make him look as though he were wrong about the decision, which he couldn’t possibly be.
Because he has never had success as a preacher but was given the chance to try, it’s possible he’ll realize he’s being a hypocrite.
Rickey and Robert do have some friends in the picture. A little girl who has considered Rickey her boyfriend since childhood returns to his life, something you see coming, but it’s cute, nonetheless.
At the end of the movie, you’re shown pictures and see the actual Rickey. Be sure to stay to see where life took him. To filmmakers everywhere, can we try and keep a story like this to a reasonable length? There is no justification to extend Rickey’s tale into the two hours of our time it took to watch. Also, I realize the movie is based on Rickey’s last name, but it could also be seen as Rickey’s challenge. However, THE HILL becomes a challenge for the audience to stay in their seats.
Directed by: Jeff Celentano
Written by: Angelo Pizzo, Scott Marshall Smith
*Based on a treatment by Bill Chaffin
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Colin Ford, Joelle Carter, Randy Houser, Jesse Berry, Bonnie Bedelia, Scott Glenn
Runtime: 2h 6m
Genres: Biography, Drama, Sports
Producers: Jeff Celentano, Warren Ostergard
Distributed by: Briarcliff Entertainment
Production Co: Rescue Dog Productions, Vitamin A Films