Nolan Ryan might be one of the most oddly-perceived star baseball players of all-time. On one hand, he was clearly dominant: 27 seasons (parts of four decades), strikeout record by a mile, 7 no-hitters, etc. His career arc (Texas native starring for both TX major league teams) also propelled him to almost mythic status. At the same time, however, he set some ignominious records-walks allowed, wild pitches, etc.-and his overall numbers (besides the big ones) don't look as "clean" as others. A fascinating figure, to be sure, and all of that-plus some great glimpses into his current/family life-is bandied about here in "Facing Nolan".
At heart, this doc is a pretty standard biography of Ryan. Director Bradley Jackson begins with Nolan's Alvin, TX upbringing and then chronicles early-career stints with the Mets & Angels. Then, of course, comes the dominating return to Texas-Astros-and finally his last few seasons with the Rangers, where his legend grew to mythic status. Along the way, Jackson gathers input from Nolan's wife, sons, and daughter to flesh out who Ryan was when not at the ballpark.
In fact, "Facing Nolan" has a very "family" feel to it, what with his sons-Reid & Reese-listed as executive producers. While some might say that could provide an overly-sympathetic look at Ryan's career/life, I never got those vibes here. In all actuality, I found the material on Nolan's wife to be some of the best of the entire doc. Scenes from modern-day Nolan working his cattle ranch and hanging out with his grandchildren were also quite touching and highly enjoyable in seeing where this momentous figure's life has taken him.
Aside from the archival footage and familial input, interviews with Ryan himself and his contemporaries (George Brett, Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Ivan Rodriguez, George W. Bush, and many others) populate "Facing Nolan" and are always engaging. In a bit of an odd quirk, I actually found Nolan's direct input a bit boring at first, only to come to understand (over the course of the doc) that his laconic style is simply his personality and always has been.
Despite my top-shelf 10 star rating, "Facing Nolan" isn't a perfect documentary. The narration can be a bit over-the-top (perhaps even corny) and there are certain themes introduced that aren't carried over throughout. But for whatever reason, the entire effort seemed to "hit" at the right time and elicit real emotion from this viewer. I learned that Nolan Ryan's baseball impact can't be measured by the pure numbers so often used to evaluate the players of today, and I smiled at his post-career journey to find purpose in his ranching and family life. In short, I had such a good time-and experienced so many different emotions-watching "Facing Nolan" that I couldn't give it anything less than the full 10 stars.