Review: Facing Nolan | SXSW 2022

Score: B+

Director: Bradley Jackson

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rated: NR

As a Texan, it's impossible to understate how important Nolan Ryan is to the state. Even though he only played the back half of his career here, and took neither the Astros nor the Rangers to the World Series (at least as a player), he's still revered. Hell, his most enduring image is not throwing a baseball, but of punching a player who charged the mound. For people my age, who perhaps only saw him play once, he's more myth than man. But while Facing Nolan doesn't really puncture that myth, it does confirm that he actually was that talented, one of the greatest to ever play the game.

Ostensibly told from the POV of the many batters who struck out against Ryan, this is actually a much more traditional sports doc. We get the man's whole life story, from humble beginnings in Alvin, Texas, to early success with the Mets, to his career's unceremonious end in 1993. It's a fawning tribute, made more palatable by Ryan's humble demeanor. It's everyone else who gets to tell us how great he is, not the man himself.

The documentary gets some great footage of Ryan's record-setting strikeouts, including a momentous one that was only broadcast on TV in Canada, and only because the Rangers were playing the Toronto Blue Jays. The most notable aspect in every one is the level of crowd noise. (Former President and Rangers owner George W. Bush even has to turn down the volume on the iPad he's watching because it's so loud.) Fans loved Ryan, even if he was constantly undervalued by sports writers during his playing career. (He never won the Cy Young Award, but was almost unanimously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot.)

Unlike Ryan's career, this documentary probably should have ended a bit sooner. The interviews with his grandkids don't add anything except to further solidify his reputation as a good man on and off the mound. Still, Facing Nolan is something batters rarely earned when Ryan pitched: a home run.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.