The Greatest Game Ever Played

Cast:
Shia LaBeouf as Francis Ouimet
Josh Flitter as Eddie Lowery
Stephen Dillane as Harry Vardon
Justin Ashforth as Ted Hastings
Luke Askew
George Asprey as Wilfred Reid
Jackie Burroughs
Len Cariou as Stedman Comstock
Peter Firth as Lord Northcliffe
Max Kasch as Freddy Wallis
Matthew Knight as Young Francis Ouimet
Elias Koteas as Arthur Ouimet
Peyton List as Sara Wallis
Stephen Marcus as Ted Ray
Marnie McPhail as Mary Ouimet
Tim Peper as Walter Gibbs
Michael Weaver as John J. McDermott

Summary:
The Greatest Game Ever Played is a classic underdog story and a tale unfamiliar to many sports fans. The true story will really appeal to golf fanatics, but general audiences will probably only find it good for some light, forgettable entertainment.

Story:
Disney continues their string of sports films with The Greatest Game Ever Played directed by Bill Paxton. It tells the tale of Francis Ouimet, an amateur golfer in the early 1900′s. As a child he showed a love for the sport and even worked as a caddy at the local golf course. As an adult, despite his natural talent, he found himself held back by prejudice against the working class and his father who didn’t want him wasting his time with the game. Yet through luck and the help of a local golfing club member, Francis found himself given the opportunity to play as an amateur in the 1913 U.S. Open.

Up until that point the world of golf had been dominated by the British and Scots. Leading the British was Harry Vardon, aka The Stylist. Vardon had risen from lowly roots to become the best golfer in the world. Despite this, he found himself consistently excluded and looked down upon by “gentlemen” golfers. The 1913 U.S. Open was his chance to win acceptance into their exclusive society and overcome his self doubts about his class.

It was against this backdrop that Vardon and Ouimet, along with his pint-sized caddy Eddie Lowery, found themselves facing off in the greatest game of golf ever played.

The Greatest Game Ever Played is rated PG for some brief mild language

What Worked:
If you like sports movies, then you’re probably going to enjoy The Greatest Game Ever Played. If you like golf, then you’ll probably enjoy it even more. It’s your classic underdog story set against a backdrop involving class struggle, family strife, and national pride. Despite this, it’s a story that’s unfamiliar to most audience members.

Bill Paxton hasn’t directed many films, but he does a decent job with this one. The film looks good and the period setting is convincing. He also uses every trick imaginable to make golf look exciting. He shoots the players from every conceivable angle. He shoots the drives in slow motion, high speed, above, below, overlapping, and everything in-between. Paxton also makes extensive use of computer effects. The ball flies at the screen, rolls over odd paths, is seen flying from its view, etc. It helps keep thing exciting, but it occasionally borders on ridiculousness like when we actually fly inside the ball and pass through the interior. One interesting trick is when Vardon tunes out the crowd, the trees, and everything but the hole. They all disappear from the screen and it’s just him in an open field.

Most of the performances in The Greatest Game Ever Played are quite restrained. About the only standout is Josh Flitter as Eddie Lowery, the spunky little caddy. He’s got spirit, attitude, and a good sense of the golf game. He’s a good sidekick for Francis though he looks like a clone of Gilligan and Spanky from The Little Rascals. Shia LaBeouf, who is usually cocky and loud in his roles, is good as Francis Ouimet. Again, it’s a really restrained performance but he manages to convey a lot of emotion without dialogue. I was also surprised to learn that Harry Vardon was a major part of this story. The movie is as much about him as it is Ouimet. Stephen Dillane plays Vardon and is quite likable though he represents the opposing side in the film.

What Didn’t Work:
The biggest problem with The Greatest Game Ever Played is that it’s predictable. You can tell how it’s going to end just from looking at the movie poster. Do you think they’d make a movie about an underdog that ALMOST won the U.S. Open? Because of this, it takes away from much of the suspense of the movie even if people aren’t familiar with the actual historical tale.

Also, as previously mentioned, the ball effects were overdone at times. I think this was more of an effort to spice things up than a major mistake.

The Bottom Line:
Overall, The Greatest Game Ever Played is good for some light entertainment, but there’s not much memorable about it after you’re done viewing it. I recommend it most for golf fanatics and fans of Shia LaBeouf.

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