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The Phenom Blu-ray Review

The Phenom (2016) movie poster The Phenom

Theatrical Release: June 24, 2016 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Writer/Director: Noah Buschel

Cast: Johnny Simmons (Hopper Gibson), Ethan Hawke (Hopper Gibson Sr.), Paul Giamatti (Dr. Mobley), Sophie Kennedy Clark (Dorothy), Alison Elliott (Susan Gibson), Yul Vazquez (Coach Eddie Soler), Paul Adelstein (Borwitz), Marin Ireland (Rachel Callum), Louisa Krause (Candace), Frank Wood (Richard), Meg Gibson (Jill), Elizabeth Marvel (Mrs. Epland), Emily Fleischer (Betsy), Journey Smith (Lloyd), Niesha Butler (Tuesday), Aaron Judlowe (Stan), John Ventimiglia (Red), Steven Marcus (Ernie)

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The Phenom tells the story of a Hopper Gibson (Johnny Simmons), a talented young pitcher who after a promising start begins to struggle in the major leagues. The film opens after one short studio logo
and before any credits with a scene that feels like it belongs in the middle of the movie. It proceeds in a nonlinear fashion that some viewers will describe as random or hard to follow.

We see Hopper in high school weighing his options of playing in college or going straight to the pros. We see his experiences with his beer-guzzling, drug-dealing father (Ethan Hawke), who makes him run suicide sprints in the driveway for showing emotion on the mound. We see his experiences with his far more tender mother (Alison Elliott), whom he buys a mansion. At greatest length, we see Hopper's interactions with Dr. Mobley (Paul Giamatti), a respected sports psychologist who tries to get the athlete to overcome the mental obstacles that have seen his ball control suddenly go haywire.

In "The Phenom", struggling major league pitcher Hopper Gibson (Johnny Simmons) consults esteemed sports psychologist Dr. Mobley (Paul Giamatti).

The sixth film written and directed by Noah Buschel, whose previous five you most likely have neither seen nor heard of, The Phenom is the rare art house film to explore professional athletics. Buschel fills the film with creative flourishes: a shot of rain drops falling down on the camera lens, some iris in and out play during a pivotal game for Hopper, and a Terrence Malick kind of free-form storytelling and editing, but with dialogue rather than voiceover.

The distinctive presentation explains both why critics overwhelmingly liked the film (79% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and why the general public did not (a measly 5.4 average on IMDb and a rare, pitiful two-star rating on Amazon). If you want a conventional sports drama, there is no shortage of inspirational true tales for every sport. They've all got beginnings, middles, and ends,
with the lattermost almost always seeing the player or team overcome the odds and win the big game. Some of those movies are quite good, few of them are downright bad.

The Phenom, though, is different. It provides a psychological study of the life and mindset of a professional athlete, dissecting why this highly skilled and handsomely compensated ball player has so little joy in his life. By showing rather than simply telling, the movie does a fine job of acclimating us to its reserved protagonist and understanding where he's coming from. There are brushes with reporters and an agent, but Entourage, this is not. The heart of the movie are those candid conversations between the athlete and his shrink, both trying to get to the root of the problems that materialize suddenly in a late inning of a nationally televised game and soon get Hopper demoted to the minor leagues.

Hopper is driven to greatness by his father Hopper Sr. (Ethan Hawke), a man who throws a full beer can at his head for smiling on the mound.

Buschel draws strong and very different performances from all three of his leads. To my knowledge, Hawke has never played such a despicable character before, but he is super convincing at it. Giamatti, who has ties to the game as the son of 1980s MLB commissioner Bart Giamatti, compels as a voice of reason. And Simmons, enjoying his biggest role to date, does a fine job of both looking like a professional athlete and conveying quiet internal conflict.

Still, unfolding with some seemingly random detours and a closing scene that resolves nothing, The Phenom will be a hard sell for those who aren't that open-minded and have trouble digesting offbeat and subversive cinema. Following a theatrical release so limited as to not include any box office record, The Phenom reaches Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday from RLJ Entertainment.

Though not rated, The Phenom clearly would have received an R from the MPAA for language.

The Phenom Blu-ray cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: August 30, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $29.97
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.96 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video


Despite the clout of some cast members, The Phenom is clearly low-budget cinema and it doesn't impress on Blu-ray to the extent of its more lavish brethren. Whether by design or limitation, the 2.35:1 picture leaves portions of the frame looking soft and out of focus with some consistency. Sharpness and detail are never quite what you'd like them to be either. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack does not warrant any complaints, but this isn't a movie that will envelop you with stadium sound effects.

Paul Giamatti, son of short-lived MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti, discusses his character and castmates in "The Cast of 'The Phenom'." A behind-the-scenes gallery photo shows the filming of a baseball diamond scene.


The Phenom is accompanied by two types of extras on Blu-ray.

First, "The Cast of The Phenom" (9:28) gladly edits together remarks from Simmons,
Giamatti, and Hawke into a coherent and well-flowing featurette rather than taking the usual indie approach of just letting the actors speak at length.

In addition to that piece, we get two viewer-navigated photo galleries, one holding 14 production stills and the other containing 7 behind-the-scenes images.

The disc opens with trailers for Devil's Knot, Bone Tomahawk, and Criminal Activities, none of which is accessible by menu. The Phenom's own trailer is not included here.

The menu is a strangely and seemingly mistakenly silent loop of film clips.

The full-color disc is held in a side-snapped keepcase that is topped by an extensively embossed and textured cardboard slipcover.

Hopper Sr. (Ethan Hawke) gets plenty of weight barbs and steroid recommendations in to his son (Johnny Simmons) warming up in uniform.


The Phenom is a sports movie for those tired of inspirational true dramas. This original tale of a talented pitcher's troubles will lose viewers with its psychological, nonlinear art house approach but reward those seeking something other than the formula and convention you usually find.

RLJ's Blu-ray complements an okay feature presentation with a good interview-driven featurette. I recommend a rental.

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Johnny Simmons: Jennifer's Body Scott Pilgrim vs. the World 21 Jump Street | Ethan Hawke: Boyhood Before Midnight Good Kill Regression
Paul Giamatti: Win Win Straight Outta Compton San Andreas Saving Mr. Banks All Is Bright Rock of Ages
Baseball: Moneyball 42 Trouble with the Curve The Rookie Everybody Wants Some!! Mr. 3000 A League of Their Own
Sports: My All-American Creed Eddie the Eagle Breaking Away Hoop Dreams

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Reviewed August 25, 2016.

Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2016 RLJ Entertainment, Best Pitcher, Bron Capital Partners, and Crystal Wealth.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.