The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG for brief mild language
Running Time: 120 min.
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Stephen Dillane, Josh Flitter, Stephen Marcus, Elias Koteas, Marnie McPhail, Peyton List, Michael Weaver, Peter Firth
Director: Bill Paxton
Screenplay: Mark Frost (based on his book, "The Greatest Game Ever Played: Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, and the Birth of Modern Golf")
Review published April 4, 2006
Shia LaBeouf (Constantine, I Robot) stars in this solid Walt Disney production, which represents one of their finest in terms of live-action films in recent memory. The technical aspects of the film are top-notch across the board, starting with the adept direction by actor Bill Paxton (Frailty), in only his second effort. Disney has been on a roll of late with the inspirational sports films, with noble efforts like The Rookie and Miracle, and The Greatest Game Ever Played ranks right up with them in terms of quality and a well-oiled, feel-good charm.
Based on a true story, The Greatest Game Ever Played refers to the 1913 U.S. Open golf championship, where a young amateur golfer named Francis Ouimet (LaBeouf) competed against some of the best golf players in the world, including the fame British master, Harry Vardon (Dillane, King Arthur), perhaps the finest of his generation. I won't spoil the film for those that don't know the outcome, except to say that this particular game was significant and important in many ways, from national pride to issues of class, coming down to an almost shot for shot dead heat for who would take the vaunted trophy home for their countries.
Golf is one of those sports that is infinitely more exciting to play than to watch as a spectator, and many viewers may stay away, thinking that a drama about golf will be just as dull as trying to watch it on television. Credit Paxton for setting up the conflicts in such a way that we actually care enough about the characters to have a rooting interest, while also punching up the visuals in order to make it seem as lively and vibrant for non-fans as it does for those that avidly follow the sport.
Paxton does occasionally dip into the gimmicks bag to address this, as there are special effects point-of-view shots done from the perspective of the traveling ball that some may find a bit superfluous, but all in all, this is as appealing a visual golf film as has been filmed, with sumptuous cinematography by Shane Hurlbut (Into the Blue, Mr. 3000). The rich, stirring score by Brian Tyler (Paparazzi, Timeline) also enhances the mood to create a poignant feel to even the quietest of scenes.
The Greatest Game Ever Played is high-caliber entertainment across the board, with fine performances, terrific character development, suspense, drama, and interesting historical tidbits. Highly recommended for sports movie fans, or those that just enjoy feel-good family-oriented fare.
©2006 Vince Leo