My brother says I shouldn't review sports movies. Because I'm not a sports fan, he says, I can't be objective.
He may have a point, but I don't think For Love of the Game is fundamentally a sports movie. Sure, suit Kevin Costner up in a baseball uniform and you might think you're looking at another Field of Dreams, but For Love of the Game is something we don't see a lot of. Allow me to explain.
On the last day of a losing baseball season, veteran Detroit Tigers pitcher Billy Chapel (Costner) gets the news that he's going to be traded and that his girlfriend is ditching him to move to London. The information devastates Chapel, so he decides to take it out on the baseball diamond, steeling himself up for the game of his life.
Before you know it, we're watching Chapel edge closer and closer to the near-impossible perfect game: 9 innings, 27 batters, no hits, no walks, no men on base. And while Chapel struggles inning after inning - against the Yankees, against the coach, against his aching body and mind - he relives the last five years of his life through flashback.
The flashbacks include the meeting of his on-again off-again girlfriend Jane (Preston), befriending her daughter (Malone), his ups and downs with his old buddy and standby catcher Gus (Reilly), getting injured, getting better, and basically living the life of an aging ballplayer.
Back at game time, Chapel realizes he's made some mistakes, and this final match becomes a shot at redemption. Everyone watching the game somehow seems to realize this, and through those nine innings, all lives are invariably altered.
If it sounds like a powerful film, that's because it is. Director Raimi is a master at pulling strings, and no expense has been spared at coaxing the tears out of you. All the players are perfectly suited for their roles, with special marks for Reilly and Costner, who gives his best performance since JFK in 1991.
But it isn't too far into For Love of the Game that you start to realize a couple of things. First, that the baseball game is far more dramatic and interesting than the flashbacks. (The film is obviously adapted from a novel, and sometimes it feels like the flashback pages are being shot verbatim.) Second, that the whole thing is a ploy to manipulate you into getting over-emotional. There are points when you want to spit, the movie is so saccharine.
But this Game is just so compelling, it's hard not to put those flaws aside and just let yourself be washed over by this movie. I may be a victim of Hollywood mind games, but at least I enjoyed myself.
Hey batter, batter.