“The Hill” is a based-on-a-true story sports drama co-written by Angelo Pizzo, who wrote 1986’s “Hoosiers” and 1993’s “Rudy”. Not a bad resume for the genre. The A-list actor headlining “The Hill” is Dennis Quaid, who’s starred in more than a dozen sports films, including “The Rookie”, “The Express”, “Any Given Sunday” and “Blue Miracle”. Again, a pretty nice track record.
Rickey Hill was born in 1956 with a degenerative spine condition. He’s forced to wear leg braces just to walk. Forget about running. But Rickey’s dream is to play Major League baseball. And, from a very young age, he’s been able to swing (a stick) and hit (a rock) a long way. But his severe physical disability prevents him from playing the game he loves.
As does Rickey’s father, small-town Texas Pastor James Hill (Quaid). He’s vehemently against Rickey ever competing in sports. He believes his youngest son has a higher calling: becoming a preacher and spreading the Word of God, which Rickey also happens to be very good at. Quaid shines, as he walks the tightrope of Pastor Hill being both a positive, spiritual leader and a strict, proud patriarch.
“The Hill” is quite serious for a PG-rated, sports-based drama. There are some light moments with Rickey and his siblings getting into mischief around town. And there’s the obligatory ‘Could this day get any worse?’ scene (too corny for its own good). But for the most part, this is a heavy movie, with a lineup card of conflicts: Father vs. Son. God vs. Baseball. Rickey vs. His Body. Rickey vs. Baseball. Son vs. Mother-in-Law. God vs. Pastor Hill.
1989’s “Field of Dreams” is widely accepted as the quintessential ‘father-son’ sports movie. “The Hill” takes that theme and substitutes grit for sentimentality. Together, these two films now form an unbeatable cinematic double-header experience — reaffirming that movies about the National Pastime succeed in going deeper emotionally than those involving any other sport.
Pizzo, co-writer Scott Marshall Smith (who passed away in 2020) and director Jeff Celentano devote the first half of the film to Rickey as a young boy. In the second half we see Rickey as a teen, battling to overcome his physical challenges. This decision — allowing us to fully experience Rickey’s life as a child — especially his early interactions with his father — help us truly understand the actions and motivations of both characters later in their lives.
The messages of beating the odds and believing in miracles come through loud and clear. The faith components are challenging and fulfilling, following in the footsteps of powerful 2023 releases “Jesus Revolution” and “Sound of Freedom”.
Not only is Quaid quite good, but both actors who play Rickey, Jesse Berry (young Rickey) and Colin Ford (Ricky as high school prospect) are outstanding. Great to see Bonnie Bedelia back in a feature film. She is excellent as Rickey’s ornery and wise grandma. And country singer Randy Houser is surprisingly effective in his first major acting role as Ray Clemons, one of Rickey’s biggest supporters. Houser will soon appear in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon”. He’s got a promising future on the big screen.
The final act is baseball dominant, and Scott Glenn owns his role as legendary baseball scout Red Murff. The atmosphere and execution of the baseball scenes is pitch-perfect.
Yes, “The Hill” is yet another ‘underdog overcoming the odds’ sports movie. And you may think you’ve already seen enough of those to last your lifetime. But don’t let that keep you from seeing this film. It’s a true winner.
LCJ GRADE: A-
Running Time: 126 min.