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The Hill

MOVIE | Sports film inspires but falls into a familiar prosperity gospel trap

Briarcliff Entertainment

<em>The Hill</em>
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Rated PG

Actor Dennis Quaid is back with his second faith-based drama of 2023. In April, he starred in Prime Video’s On a Wing and a Prayer, a movie about surviving a harrowing plane ride by faith, and now his sports biopic The Hill arrives in theaters. The Hill tells the story of Rickey Hill and his brave attempt to beat the odds to play professional baseball.

The movie begins in the 1960s with the Hill family’s struggles. James Hill (Quaid) is a small-town pastor in Texas whose zeal for God’s house brings him into conflict with his congregation. While James and his uncomplaining wife Helen (Joelle Carter) struggle to keep food on the table, their son Rickey (Jesse Berry) dreams of playing baseball.

Young Rickey spends his hours batting rocks with sticks, but he can’t play like the other boys because a debilitating health condition has left him in leg braces. The first half of the movie showcases Rickey’s determination to overcome his physical limitations to pursue the sport he loves.

The second half of the movie jumps forward to 1975. Rickey (Colin Ford, playing the older ­version) is finishing up high school, and he’s proved to be a slugging phenom. But his childhood struggles come back to haunt him as he takes his shot at the big leagues.

Rickey’s determination to overcome his physical obstacles is only part of the story. The conflict between Rickey and his father provides the film’s heart because James refuses to countenance his son’s desire to play baseball. Rickey has a quick mind and easily memorizes Scripture. His uncompromising father wants him to become a preacher, thinking baseball wastes Rickey’s gifts. James also fears his fragile son runs too many risks while playing baseball.

The Hill has much to recommend it. The story hits the familiar beats of coming-of-age films and sports dramas from days past. That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering Angelo Pizzo, who wrote Hoosiers and Rudy, had a hand in the script. The movie also contains less objectionable content than most sports dramas. The PG film includes smoking, a depiction of drunkenness, and one hastily covered vulgarity.

The production values are better than the typical faith-based movie, and the acting is solid, though at times a bit melodramatic. But Quaid seems at least 20 years too old for his role, and native Texans will notice that the filmmakers play fast and loose with Texas’ geography.

The movie bills itself as an inspirational story that teaches us to never let go of our dreams.

Most disappointingly, The Hill suffers from some of the same theological problems that plague other faith-based movies. The movie uses David and Goliath as its guiding motif. Little Rickey is David, and he’s flinging stones at his Goliath-like adversity. The message is clear: You too can be a David if you have enough faith. A more faithful interpretation of the story puts Jesus in the place of David with the rest of us as Israelites cowering back at the camp. By merging metaphor with the reality of victory in Jesus, The Hill slips into the familiar trap of promoting a prosperity gospel.

The movie trots out the usual list of motivational Bible verses taken out of context, and it misconstrues them as promises for Christians who want material and temporal success. The movie bills itself as an inspirational story that teaches us never to let go of our dreams. After all, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can even make it to the big leagues.

True to the genre, we see the underdog struggle and then prevail in the end. He made the most of his shot. Roll the credits. Except The Hill ends Rickey Hill’s story much too soon.

In real life, Rickey Hill never made it to the majors. He gutted it out for a few years in the minor leagues before his debilitating condition forced him to quit. In interviews, Hill said he fell into suicidal despair after poor health robbed him of baseball. How does faith respond to failure? That’s the story Christians and non-Christians needed to see. When our world crumbles, responding with Philippians 4:13 becomes a powerful testimony.

Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD’s arts and culture editor. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University and resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.



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