The Hill (Christian Movie Review)
About The Movie
The Hill is based on the incredible true story of Rickey Hill, a boy with a severe physical disability who persevered against the odds to pursue his dream of becoming a professional baseball player. Though the film may not be a grand slam classic in the genre, much like its central character, it hits the ball far harder than might be expected. The Hill is a well-crafted, inspirational story of faith and family that is bolstered by an earnest elevation of goodness that is rarely found in Hollywood.
Directed by Jeff Celentano, the film has all the hallmarks of traditional sports films. In fact, it was written by Angelo Pizzo, the screenwriter who penned the great sports film Rudy. Despite being based on true events, you likely will know how most of the story will play out if you’ve ever watched a sports movie before. That’s not necessarily a criticism in a genre that’s not known for having a lot of surprises. Despite its conventional telling of an unconventional real-life story, the film is elevated by the power of its narrative and strength of its characters.
While baseball plays a central role in the film, it is often just the backdrop for Rickey’s personal journey. The Hill is not a baseball flick that contains some drama. Rather, it’s a drama with a sprinkling of baseball. Only a few baseball games are depicted in the film, and they largely focus on specific impactful moments in Rickey’s life rather than the score or the team’s win/loss record.
If baseball is one foundation of the story, then faith is the other. Rickey’s father (played by Dennis Quaid) is a pastor, and religion plays a central role in Ricky’s story. The faith-based film genre doesn’t always have a high batting average, but The Hill manages to avoid most of the heavy-handed tendencies that have led some other faith-based films to strike out. Faith is foundational to the story—characters recite Bible verses, voice prayers, and sit through church services—but the spiritual elements feel organic to the story rather than the characters simply serving as mouthpieces for the filmmakers’ sermon. These faith elements also have the feel of refreshing rawness. In an early scene, a tense conversation around the dinner table demonstrates a degree of nuance that is far too often missing in faith-based storytelling.
The movie begins with Rickey as a young child before jumping ahead to his teenage years. Collin Ford is excellent as the older Rickey. Likewise, in his second faith-based film this year, Dennis Quaid is also great. His performance in Amazon’s On a Wing and a Prayer felt uninspired, but he is given far meatier material this time, which results in the movie’s most interesting, complicated role.
Speaking of complicated characters, he may be the only one. Perhaps as a byproduct of having the real-life Rickey Hill involved in the movie (he even shows up within the film itself), his character is idolized to a certain degree. He is almost too good and virtuous, with his only struggles being that others don’t have enough faith in his talent and mental fortitude. While the filmmakers didn’t necessarily need to go digging in his closet for skeletons, allowing the character to show more weakness or internal struggle would have made his journey feel more grounded.
The Hill is a well-made and wholesome sports drama with a feel-good story and an uplifting message. While not without flaws (no shame there, as even MLB superstars get a hit only 3 out of 10 times at bat), it demonstrates that it is possible to tell a faith-based story in a compelling way that doesn’t feel like a Sunday school lesson. This may be one of my favorite faith-based films in some time.
Engage The Film
The Spiritual and the Physical
In an immediate sense, the tension between the physical and the spiritual is evident in Rickey’s athletic aspirations in the face of his physical limitations. On a deeper level, the theme is explored through God’s call on Rickey’s life.
Rickey feels called to play baseball, but his father—a Baptist pastor—views his son’s physical disabilities as a clear sign that he should instead focus on the spiritual world and become a preacher. He pushes Rickey to forget about baseball and “to pursue a higher calling. Preaching God’s word. When your earthly legs have failed you. God will give you wings to fly.”
Throughout the movie, his father often diminishes the importance of the physical world. Rickey’s grandma reprimands his father, “Your eyes are so busy studying heaven, you don’t see the misery you’re putting your family through.” When he accuses her of lacking faith, she counters, “It is all I’ve got. And it sustains me. But I live here on earth.”
In a pivotal moment, Rickey’s father gives him an ultimatum, “I’m going to give you a choice. God’s will or your will?” Rickey declares, “I choose both.” He symbolizes that intention by drawing lines between the four bases on the baseball diamond to form a cross—a ritual he later continues every time he steps up to the plate.
The film doesn’t downplay the importance of spiritual callings. Despite his flaws, Rickey’s father is portrayed as a good shepherd who cares about his congregation. But Rickey’s journey is a testimony that the Christian mission is not contained within the walls of a church but must also be lived out in the physical world. Rickey Hill’s story is an echo of the Apostle Paul’s declaration, “This is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).