"Mention this flick to any guy over 40 and watch him get all weepy."
Sickly sweet and resoundingly weepy at the same time, "Bang the Drum Slowly" capably proves that there have been 'Chick Flicks for Guys' in existence for several decades; it's just that we men like to masquerade our tear-jerkers in pinstripes and jockstraps.Movies like Bang the Drum Slowly, Brian's Song, Everybody's All-American and Field of Dreams aren't actually sports flicks, you know. They're the he-man equivalents of Beaches, Steel Magnolias and Terms of Endearment.
Remembered most fondly by those who probably haven't seen it in quite some time, Bang the Drum Slowly tells the melodramatic tale of one young idiot of a baseball player (De Niro) who is sadly diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. But the star pitcher (Moriarty) of the "New York Mammoths" makes it his business to ensure that young Bruce Pearson enjoys his last baseball season. To this end, Arthur Wiggen adds some odd stipulations to his contract: if I play, Pearson plays. If I get traded to another team, Pearson comes with me.
You can pretty much fill in the rest of the blanks from there. Arthur decides to keep Henry's illness a secret from his teammates and manager, but it's not long before the secret is out...and we're soon on our way to that sort of oh-so-bittersweet finale that should have even the manliest slugger reaching for a Kleenex or two.
What elevates Bang the Drum Slowly above the TV-movie Disease-of-the-Week it clearly resembles are the two superlative lead performances. De Niro brings a youthful innocence to his unfairly doomed athlete; Michael Moriarty (an underrated performer if ever there was one) anchors the film effortlessly with his confident performance as a world-class athlete who actually does seem to have a heart of gold.
Supprorting performances from Vincent Gardenia and Ann Wedgeworth keep the film moving along with their colorful little roles; small character moments are where Bang the Drum Slowly is at its finest. The big emotional cues come saddled with an overtly annoying and theatrically over-dramatic musical score that ladels goop in lieu of sincere emotion.
Based on Mark Harris' novel of the same name, Bang the Drum Slowly is one of those Baseball Flicks that our fathers really loved, back in the day - and it's fairly easy to see why: two excellent performers giving the macho male audience something to cry about under the pretense of "hey, it's a sports movie!"One is willing to forgive such a transparent conceit, if only thanks to the good will created by two great actors, doing the best they can with an all-guy Soap Opera.