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2005 | 2004 | 2003

1 item from 2005

The Greatest Game Ever Played

4 October 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

The true story of golf's 1913 U.S. Open is full of the stuff inspiring movies are made of: underdog triumph, the breaking of class barriers, a down-to-the-wire showdown. In his first nonfiction book, "The Greatest Game Ever Played", writer-producer Mark Frost exhumed the event that once riveted the nation -- an unlikely match between a 20-year-old amateur and the game's reigning champ. He adapts the tale to the big screen with economy but not without conceding to certain rules of the genre; there's a familiarity to the saga as it hits predictable plot points. Still, actor-turned-helmer Bill Paxton has fashioned solid family entertainment in this well-cast feature, which in turn should provide solid boxoffice returns.

If the film makes its points early and sets out on an obvious trajectory, Paxton's love of the game is evident throughout. He and cinematographer Shane Hurlbut inject pizzazz into the proceedings with ball's-p.o.v. shots and telescoping effects. Although the story can't escape a certain sentimentality, Paxton leavens the inspirational element with admirable dramatic restraint, particularly in the two central performances.

Shia LaBeouf is full of quiet determination as Brookline, Mass., boy Francis Ouimet. He's been obsessed with golf since he began caddying at a tender age at the country club across the street from his working-class parents' home. From his Irish mother (Marnie McPhail) he receives undying encouragement, while his wary French father (Elias Koteas, bringing an affecting complexity to what could have been a by-the-numbers role) sees only heartbreak ahead for a poor boy dabbling in a gentleman's game.

But with the support and coaching of golfer Hastings (Justin Ashforth) and pro-shop expert Campbell (Luke Askew), Francis makes his way onto the green as a player, nabbing amateur titles until he finds himself squaring off in the U.S. Open against world-class players. Further bending the game's etiquette, circumstances leave Francis with a 10-year-old caddie, Eddie (Josh Flitter), who's not much taller than the bag. Eddie feeds Francis wisdom and rhyming pep talks with the delivery of a pintsize Borscht Belt comedian.

If the heart of the story is Francis' pairing with the spunky Eddie, its soul is the unspoken connection between him and his chief competition, Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane), the British superstar of the game. Despite his professional status, Vardon feels he is the working-class outsider among the moneyed elite. The specter of a crucial moment from his Isle of Jersey childhood, hauntingly depicted in the film's prologue, arises to unnerve him during crucial moments at the tee. With his doleful gaze and self-contained intensity, the estimable Dillane movingly conveys Harry's profound pleasure in Francis' performance.

The fine supporting cast includes Stephen Marcus as Harry's no-nonsense colleague; Peter Firth as the hissable Lord Northcliffe, sponsor of Harry and Ted's stateside expedition; George Asprey as Britain's top amateur, a snob of the first order with a mean talent for smoke rings; Michael Weaver as the defending U.S. champion, a man of frothing nationalistic fervor; Robin Wilcock as the Brit journalist who loves the story; and Peyton List as the Smith girl who takes an interest in Francis, in a subplot that feels tacked-on.

Turn-of-the-century period detail is strong, the Quebec locations striking. A lovely conceit strips away the crowds and noise and leaves Vardon alone on a pristine landscape, while a sequence of rain-soaked golfing benefits from Elliot Graham's dynamic editing. Brian Tyler contributes a rousing, if insistent, score, and opera star Dawn Upshaw appears onscreen to trill a composition by Joe Jackson.


Buena Vista Pictures/Walt Disney Pictures

A Morra Brezner Steinberg Tenenbaum production


Director: Bill Paxton

Screenwriter: Mark Frost

Producers: Larry Brezner, Mark Frost, David Blocker

Executive producer: David Steinberg

Director of photography: Shane Hurlbut

Production designer: Francois Seguin

Music: Brian Tyler

Costume designer: Renee April

Editor: Elliot Graham


Francis Ouimet: Shia LaBeouf

Harry Vardon: Stephen Dillane

Lord Northcliffe: Peter Firth

Arthur Ouimet: Elias Koteas

Ted Ray: Stephen Marcus

Eddie Lowery: Josh Flitter

Ted Hastings: Justin Ashforth

Stedman Comstock: Len Cariou

Sarah Wallis: Peyton List

Alec Campbell: Luke Askew

Bernard Darwin: Robin Wilcock

John McDermott: Michael Weaver

Mary Ouimet: Marnie McPhail

Wilfred Reid: George Asprey

Soprano: Dawn Upshaw

Running time -- 120 minutes

MPAA rating: PG »

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2005 | 2004 | 2003

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