The Greatest Game Ever Played
The Greatest Game Ever Played, huh? About golf? Hmmm, that seems like a pretty bold statement. Luckily, the movie mostly holds up to its self-proclaimed hype.
Based on the best-selling book by Mark Foster, Game tells the remarkable real-life story of Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf). He was a working-class immigrant kid who, in the early 1900s, turned the privileged world of golf on its ear. The story begins with Francis working as a caddie at a posh country club, where he masters the game by quietly practicing on his own. His French-born father (Elias Koteas) thinks he's wasting his time and should be earning an honest wage, but Francis is far too smitten with the game to give it up. Francis finally gets his big break when an amateur spot opens up at the 1913 U.S. Open. With a feisty 10-year-old caddie named Eddie (Josh Flitter) by his side, egging him on, Francis plays the best he ever has. He eventually finds himself facing off against the sport's undisputed champion, Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane), a U.S. Open winner and six-time British Open champion (a record that still stands today). Their legendary battle changes the face of the sport forever--but I wouldn't necessarily call it the greatest game ever.
Game is one of those juicy little biopics actors can really sink their teeth into. Starting with our young lead, LaBeouf (Holes) is sufficiently determined as the guy playing against impossible odds. His Francis, with his liquid brown eyes and winning smile, is full of optimism and raw talent that propels him into the majors. And he looks pretty authentic swinging a golf club, too. Still, it may be time for LaBeouf to move on from the Disney family fare and do something grittier, sort of like what he showed in Constantine. Dillane--who was so achingly good in The Hours as Virginia Woolf's beleaguered husband--also does a fine job as the legendary Vardon, a man haunted by his own demons. In a way, Game is a story about both men, who have more in common than they realize. Although a top professional in the sport, Vardon has to fight against the elitist golfing community's prejudices. You see, Vardon grew up dirt poor on the plains of Scotland, and because of his background was never permitted into any ''gentleman's'' clubs. The cast of colorful supporting players add to the film, especially Flitter as the caustic but encouraging Eddie. He may be small but he packs a wallop. The last shot of the movie features Francis and Eddie walking off the golf course at sunset, evoking the classic Casablanca ending line, ''This is the start of a beautiful friendship''--which, apparently, really happened. The real-life Eddie and Francis remained friends for the rest of their lives.
The main slice against Game is that it's about golf. Besides comedies, such as Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore, a serious movie about the game really isn't going to stir your soul, say like, football or baseball. But actor-turned-director Bill Paxton--who made his directorial debut with the creepy Frailty--takes the story and keeps it convincingly affecting. Much like Seabiscuit, it's the real-life historical context that makes Game even more compelling. Paxton painstakingly details how the game was played at the turn of the century--and who was allowed to play it. The whole discriminatory arrogance surrounding the game makes the stakes even higher for our heroes. Vardon had a score to settle while Ouimet simply became the game's new hero, paving the way for legendary whiz kids like Tiger Woods to step up on the green. Paxton also views Game as a Western. The final golf round between Vardon and Ouimet is the ultimate shootout, á la the OK Corral, in which the camera angles are inventive--a bird's eye view of the ball sailing through the air or gliding on the green into the hole. Plus, he keeps the tension as taut as he can, considering the less than exhilarating subject matter. Oh, come on, who isn't a sucker for a good sports underdog story, even if it is golf?
Granted, it's a sports movie about golf. But with winning performances, fancy camerawork and a classic root-for-the-little-guy scenario, The Greatest Game Ever Played tees off with the best of them.