1 item from 2005
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.
THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED
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 »
1 item from 2005
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