Review: Pitcher sorts through issues in ‘The Phenom’

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

A quiet mood piece about a pitcher dealing with personal issues, “The Phenom” takes a meditative approach to the world of sports drama.

Writer-director Noah Buschel goes the slow burn route in his film about Hopper Gibson (“Scott Pilgrim’s” Johnny Simmons), a top prospect who can’t get his head together.

Gibson is coached through his problems by Dr. Mobley (Paul Giamatti), a sports psychologist who wades through the young pitcher’s mind.

The chief bump in his mental space is his loser dad, Hopper Sr. (Ethan Hawke), who has mentally abused his son as he drifts in and out of prison.

Hawke is electrifying as a lowlife terror with a short fuse, but Buschel keeps him in check and focuses on the young Gibson. He uses slow zooms and POV shots to put viewers inside the pitcher’s head.

There are no manufactured elements or big game scenarios on which Buschel hangs his story. “The Phenom” takes place over a stretch of time where Gibson has been sent to the minors, and flashes back to his high school days when he was getting ready to turn pro and the future was wide open.

Sports films tend to make heroes or villains out of their subjects, but Buschel leaves those easy characterizations at the door and presents his subject as a young man dealing with his personal demons.

Instead of big fireworks, “The Phenom” offers low-key character moments. It’s a small film with a lot of insight.

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Twitter: @grahamorama

‘The Phenom’


Not rated: Language and sexual situations

Running time: 90 minutes