Genre: Drama, Sports
Directed by Tom Gries
Starring Charlton Heston, Jessica Walter, and Bruce Dern
When a professional athlete gets paid to play, their life is not theirs — it belongs to the crowd. It exists to be cheered and booed. Once the game ends, they get handed their life back without any instruction on what to do with it. That’s what Number One expresses so well. It clearly defines the existential crisis faced by athletes nearing the end of their professional career. The feeling is relatable for everyone because it’s not so different from teenage angst. It’s that feeling young adults have when they come to terms with the fact that the comfort of being a protected and loved child is soon to be completely gone. Can you stay a kid? Mentally, maybe. Charlton Heston plays a football hero who wants to stay a pro, but like a teenager, is stuck in the body he’s given.
Every year we all watch the headlines ask what Tom Brady will do next. Will he play? Will he retire? Each year, it becomes harder to watch because you know he’s a year older. Those who remember, this was the same annual tradition the public went through with Brett Favre. Number One follows Ron “Cat” Catlan as he drifts around studying his options, trying to figure out what the public thinks he’s already figured out. Just like Tom Brady, Catlan doesn’t know until he knows and that’s when he’ll let the rest of us know. His marriage is a painful mess and the affair he carries on doesn’t give him much solace either. He has several lucrative job offers on the table — work for a friend’s car dealership or a managerial position in the newly developed computer industry. To Catlan, both opportunities feel like life sentences at the State Penitentiary. The only light at the end of his tunnel is the fantasy that he might be able to lead his team to glory one more time. He has a decision to make, but there’s little suspense about it because the movie makes it very obvious that no matter what he decides, his sad future is set in stone. It’s beautiful in its honesty and makes the headlines about Tom Brady seem that much more painful.
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What’s interesting is that it’s a movie that is inherently about football and yet there’s very little football played on screen. It’s always talked about and when it isn’t, you can feel it hiding in the corners of the room waiting to interrupt whatever else is happening. It overshadows everything. That’s sort of the point. Catlan isn’t afraid of just leaving the game behind, he’s afraid of leaving behind his life. Can he go to a restaurant and not be recognized as a football star? If he’s not a football star then who is he? Just another guy at the restaurant and that’s terrifying to someone who’s a “somebody.” As Henry Hill says at the end of Goodfellas, "I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook." Maybe the excitement is worth the risk of getting wacked.