As a guy who enjoys sports, I am a bit shocked that the story of Rickey Hill is one I was not familiar with on a couple of levels. He was born and raised in Texas as a preacher’s son who overcame incredible odds to get the shot to play Major League Baseball in the 1970s. His story is one of perseverance, faith, and focus that is incredibly inspiring and has been brought to the big screen in director Jeff Celentano’s The Hill.
Rickey is played equally by Jesse Berry as a youngster and Colin Ford as a young adult. It’s important to point this out because this is just as much about the boy who spent most of his childhood in leg restraints and hitting rocks in his back yard with a stick as it is about the late high-school-aged adolescent pushing through adversity to keep his dream alive. Both actors play Rickey smartly with mannerisms that link up to keep the portrayal of the same man consistent, which keeps the story’s momentum rolling at a perfect pace. At the center of his word is his father, brilliantly portrayed by Dennis Quaid, who preaches God’s word while struggling with his own will as it pertains to his son. There is a strength to this performance that also shows the flaws in James Hill’s faith logic that I found intriguing and engaging alongside Justified veteran Joelle Carter as his devoted and grounded wife, Helen, who sees both sides of the family’s struggle. There are also a couple of my personal favorites here in Scott Glenn as an MLB scout and Bonnie Bedelia as Helen’s stubborn but wise mother, the latter of which is nothing short of one of the best performances in this film. Her Lillian is the voice of James’ conscience and conviction that he simply does not want to hear, but her persistence is the thing that helps him develop as a man, as a father, and as a leadership figure. For those of you that may have not had her on your radar in a bit, her performance is one that should plant itself right back up there where she belongs. There should also be some recognition to Mason Gillett, who plays the younger version of Rickey’s older brother, Robert. Robert is the anchor that Rickey needs to keep him pursuing his dream in the face of everything standing in his way from his physical limitations to local bullies and even his own family. (Look for a couple of cool surprise cameos in the third act, too. That’s all I’m saying there.)
Let me be clear, here: in a time where some faith-based films are wrapped up in a sports story or something of its ilk, this is the exact opposite. Those expecting more of a focus on Rickey’s journey to chase his MLB dream may be disappointed because this is about his faith journey both within Christianity and within himself, and that was refreshing to me. The Hill is not afraid to show that people of faith have flaws just as much as those who are not but reinforces the point that when all else fails, faith can be the constant that pulls us through. It’s also not a “beat you over the head with a Bible” type of story, which I also appreciate because of the bad rap that faith tends to get in films like this. This film is not afraid of what it is, but it also understands that there is a story to tell beyond a two-hour-and-five-minute sermon. I honestly feel like as long as that understanding is clear going into this film, it can be enjoyed by anyone that just needs a little inspiration every once in a while.