Not the Greatest Golf Movie
I will be the first to admit that whilst I enjoy the sports movies which Disney occasionally make I also find them overly glossy, sweet and rather too family friendly. "The Greatest Game Ever Played" which stars Shia LaBeouf is another one of Disney's glossy, sweet sports movies which works the classic underdog story to resonate a warm glow of optimism as the credits roll. But whilst "The Greatest Game Ever Played" is a stereotypical Disney sports movie, it is also very well made, thoroughly entertaining and shockingly captivating especially considering it's a movie about the slow moving game of golf.
Growing up opposite the Brookline Country Club, young Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf - Constantine) was attracted to playing golf, working as a caddie to make some money for his working class family. When he failed to make the cut in his first tournament he quit the sport and got a proper job as his father wished. But when the 1913 U.S. Open came to The Brookline Country Club, Francis was approached to play by the President of the U.S. Golf Association who wanted some local representation in the prestige tournament. Having agreed to play Francis found himself playing against such golfing icons as Ted Ray (Stephen Marcus) and his own golfing hero Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane). With his young caddie, Eddie (Josh Flitter), Francis surprises everyone as he ends up in an 18 hole playoff with both Vardon and Ray.
"The Greatest Game Ever Played" revolves around the true story of the 1913 U.S. Open where the president of the United States Golf Association wanted a local player involved and so Francis Ouimet was asked to play. Now as you would expect from any sports movie, liberties have been taken with the storyline such as the closeness of the playoff between Ouimet, Vardon and Ray. But the main facts, where Ouimet grew up, his father's dislike of his son playing golf, the working in a sports store are all pretty close to the truth. This almost minor tinkering does what it sets out to do and gives "The Greatest Game Ever Played" both a magical feel as well as tension as although the result is obvious it gets you to the edge of your seat to see if Ouimet wins.
What is interesting is at its heart "The Greatest Game Ever Played" is an underdog story, the amateur Ouimet against the Championship winning professionals but instead of it being Ouimet being the good guy against some bad guy golfers the bad guy is the actual society. You see "The Greatest Game Ever Played" is a movie about those who are deemed as low class being allowed to play a gentleman's sport and so we have those snobs looking down there nose at Ouimet, call him caddy boy and so when he does compete and holds his own against seasoned professionals it is an uplifting blow to those who took the mickey out of him.
And at the same time it's not just Ouimet striking a blow for the lower classes as although Vardon was a top golfer we learn of his humble beginnings and the way that society treated him like a peasant, a worker rather than the great golfer he was. By making social standing the enemy gives "The Greatest Game Ever Played" a different feel to so many other sports movies and also more entertaining. It means that those final scenes, the pat on the back scenes as I like to call them feel more real rather than cheesy.
But it has to be said that whilst the ending isn't as cheesy as it could have been, being a Disney movie there are some rather cheesy or should that be over glossy and sentimental scenes. The image of Ouimet's father coming out in support is so sweetly sentimental it's sickly sweet as is the way Eddie, his fifth grade caddy, encourages him, although Eddie's encouragement is also quite amusing. Some of the actual golf shots also border on the cheesy including one where a lady bird lands on a golf ball which Ted Ray strikes without squashing it. It's these almost corny scenes which end up spoiling "The Greatest Game Ever Played".
But despite having some corny scenes, director Bill Paxton, yes the actor, keeps a good control of the movie restraining it from becoming too obvious with a semi romantic sub plot and delivering that edge of tension as the final game progresses. What is nice is some of the golfing scenes really achieve that magical feel, long putts, chipping out of water soaked bunkers and so on. "The Greatest Game Ever Played" really does deliver that warm glow and at such a good pace too.
As for the acting well Stephen Dillane is solid as Harry Vardon as is Stephen Marcus as Ted Ray but "The Greatest Game Ever Played" really is Shia LaBeouf's movie. And although some of LaBeouf's more recent movies such as "Transformers" have disappointed, he impresses as Francis Ouimet. He manages to give a quiet performance whilst also commanding a scene, there's no show boating, no scene grabbing just a very nice portrayal of this young golfer who finds himself playing against his idol Harry Vardon. It's such a nice portrayal that it is very easy to warm to and side with Francis which is very much what "The Greatest Game Ever Played" wants you to do.
What this all boils down to is that "The Greatest Game Ever Played" is a nice movie, not a great movie but one of the better Disney sporting movies. As a Disney sporting movie it is glossy, a little overly sentimental but also delivers the warmth and inspiration you expect, especially from a golfing underdog story.