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Shia LaBeouf in 'The Greatest Game Ever Played'

Movie Info

RATING:

PG for some brief mild language

RELEASE:

September 30, 2005

GENRE:

Drama

STARRING:

Shia LaBeouf, Stephen Dillane, Justin Ashforth, Peter Firth, George Asprey

DIRECTOR:

Bill Paxton

DISTRIBUTOR:

Walt Disney Pictures

 

Please Note

In providing movie reviews on our site, CBN.com is not endorsing or recommending films we review. Our goal is to provide Christians with information about the latest movies, both the good and the bad, so that our readers may make an informed decision as to whether or not films are appropriate for them and their families.

MOVIE REVIEW

The Greatest Game Ever Played

By Nathaniel Bell
Guest Reviewer

CBN.com - No matter how you slice it, The Greatest Game Ever Played will probably play much better for those who haven’t seen many sports movies. Proudly wearing its heart on its sleeve, this earnest, conventional Disney film is calculated to please, although you can hear the gears of the plot grinding away from the first frame to the last.

Based on a true story, the film recounts the tale of Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old caddy from Brookline, Massachusetts, who defies social prejudice and tees off against legendary English golfer Harry Vardon during the 1913 U.S. Open. The odds, of course, are stacked insurmountably against him, and what’s more, his working-class father (Elias Koteas) refuses to endorse his son’s newfound mania. As played by Shia La Beouf, Ouimet is a gravely determined young man, and he is abetted by his spirited caddy (Josh Flitter), a 10-year-old motor mouth whose dogged enthusiasm provides ample comic relief.

Adapted by Mark Frost from his nonfiction book, the film is intent on establishing a firm sense of class conflict, which it does with a heavy hand. Beginning with a vivid flashback in which a group of cadaverous 19th century noblemen demolish a peasant’s house to make way for an 18-hole course, it’s quite clear that we will be witnessing a battle twixt the blue bloods and the bourgeoisie. In its nascent stages, the great game of golf was reserved for the cream of society, and the elitism perpetuated by Europe’s upper class is given plenty of screen time—there are enough stiff upper lips in this film to fill St. Andrews.

This basic tension is given emotional heft by Stephen Dillane’s quietly anguished performance as Vardon, whose persecution at the hands of sneering “gentlemen” continues to haunt him well into adulthood. His recognition of Ouimet as one of his own is the story’s most nuanced revelation, albeit one the filmmakers are unwilling to explore in close detail.

Director Bill Paxton, whose first film was the challenging and disturbing Frailty, opts to play it safe here, and submerges the film in tasteful restraint. Realizing that golf is frequently suspenseful but rarely exciting, he peppers the picture with distracting special effects whenever he suspects the audience is losing interest. Nevertheless, the visuals are often astonishingly rich, effectively conveying the lush greenness of the countryside and the posh, wood-paneled opulence of the American country clubs.

Ultimately, The Greatest Game Ever Played is a testament to the infallible structure of the underdog sports movie. In its resolutely old-fashioned way, Paxton’s film manages to push all the right emotional buttons despite an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. It may be a shopworn formula, but it’s a formula that works. It’s rated PG for some brief mild language.

More movie reviews on CBN.com


Nathaniel Bell is a film critic in Southern California. Review used by permission.

 

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