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The art to throwing a baseball fast has been romanticized in ways serious and funny, perhaps most notably in Ron Shelton's Bull Durham. But where it all seems to originate from is the athletic feats of Lynn Nolan Ryan Jr., a baseball pitcher whose career spanned four decades, lasting until Ryan retired months before his 48th birthday. A generally stoic, unassuming character, Ryan was soft-spoken in his years in baseball, and in Facing Nolan, opens up about his playing days and a variety of other subjects.
Facing Nolan appears to be the feature documentary debut of Bradley Jackson, following several shorts and producing credits on a variety of other projects. Using interviews with Ryan, his family, friends and teammates, Ryan discusses his initial time with the New York Mets, his feelings of doubt early in his career, and eventual thriving when he found his stride with the California Angels and later in his ‘hometown' Houston Astros. Ryan's individual accomplishments of more than 5,000 strikeouts, seven no-hitters and 100 mile per hour fastballs are recounted, as are his more infamous moments such as when he and Chicago's Robin Ventura get into a bench-clearing dustup.
Watching Facing Nolan left me with a slight conflict, in that sure, it's nice to see a man who normally seemed to abhor reminiscing go ahead and do so. But it also seems to be not much more than that, in that past appreciating what Ryan's done (and again, it's prolific! Not likely to be replicated!), I'm unsure that that can carry a film, even if that's the film's sole subject. There are stories and anecdotes, but nothing that strikes too deep of an emotional cord.
Along with the stories, the film uses an actor, wearing the jerseys of Ryan's career, in an attempt to bring Ryan out of the source film and video that we watch. But these segments, even if we never hear the recreated, modernized Ryan talk or throw a pitch, are excessive and lengthy when they do appear onscreen.
It's nice that Nolan Ryan is talking about his career and life now, particularly that he's in the period of his life where he seems he wants to leave a legacy to as many people as he can past his already impressive, lengthy list of uncatchable records. But Facing Nolan seems to repeat a lot of it which for slightly older (and in my case, former) baseball fans like me, is hardly too compelling, but is at least appreciated to show newer fans what the most historic pitcher in baseball history accomplished through his years and innings pitched.The Blu-ray:
The film is in 1.78:1 widescreen, though it handles a variety of original sources, some of which are reformatted to accommodate the film. The modern interviews look great with fine color reproduction and flesh tone reproduction, the vintage stuff looks as good as it's going to (as high-definition does with the old film and video from decades-past), generally with no complaints here.The Sound:
It's nice to see the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround here, but the film does not get many opportunities to play with the space. The new film includes brief moments of immersion when Ryan and Pete Rose talk at a charity event, the interviews sound as clear as can be in the front of the sound stage and is as clear as you're going to get for a feature of this nature.The Extras:
A decent amount of stuff for this sports doc; a panel called the "Pitching Ninja" (1:06:46) with Ryan , Jackson and pitching coach Tom House (who Ryan collaborated with on one of his books) as they talk about the approach to the craft. A South by Southwest post-screening Q&A follows (9:02) along with two clips (2:35) and the trailer for the film (2:12).Final Thoughts:
Facing Nolan is a nice stroll through the career and life of Nolan Ryan, but past in essence his work of being a really good pitcher, if the through line is nothing more than that, you have something that could have been covered on a sports channel or in one of Ryan's books I guess. Technically the disc is fine and the bonus materials are good for seam heads, and if you like baseball whatsoever, you owe it to yourself to check it out.