It impresses most of all because it is filled with surprises. Every time you think it is going to go after a cliché, it goes in a completely different direction. You think the kid's dad is an ass? Not so. He's a regular guy who has days when he acts like an ass, like the rest of us. You think the Designated Golf Yoda is going to turn the kid into Nicklaus II? Not so. In fact, he begins by refusing to teach the kid how to play, and he never goes back on his word.
He only gives him one lesson related to golf:
Golf isn't that important. It isn't life.
This must be the most unmarketable film of all time. Every message in this film is something that you'd want your kids to hear. It is about decency, integrity, sincerity, and trying to grow up with perspective. It would be a great PG Disney film. Unfortunately, it is rated R because the dialogue is realistic. That's what life boils down to in Hollywood. If you make a movie for kids that shows them what the world is really like and gives them some approaches to take when they encounter that world, the film will be given an R rating, thus assuring that those kids will never see the film.
Kids are only allowed to see movies which are unrealistic.
So here you have what is essentially a sweet little coming-of-age movie, and no audience. I guess the producers finally figured that out, and abandoned any hope that A Gentleman's Game might have a theatrical release.
On the other hand, there's no reason why adults won't like the film.
* It looks sumptuous, was cast perfectly, and is acted beautifully.
* In addition to the stars, it features rounded performances from Gary Sinese and Philip Baker Hall, two of the greatest character actors in films today.
* The story has an emotional fullness to it, a sense of how life is more than contrived drama and moments engineered for the camera. There are no last-minute rallies or miraculous chips from the rough. There are no "Rocky" moments of ultimate sports triumph.
The dramatic payoff occurs when a man who lost his integrity reclaims it, and a kid who admires him decides he isn't going to give his own integrity up in the first place.