That tidbit of information is not so appealing when it's shoved down your throat for two hours. Paxton and writer Mark Frost (adapting from his own non-fiction book), so intent on remaking Seabiscuit on a golf course, so zealous to show the triumph of the common man, don't create a feel-good, root-for-the-underdog movie, but a caricature of one. You've never seen so many scenes of fat, rich men in fancy suits, huddled around oak desks sipping brandy and talking in solemn tones. You've never seen so many scenes of working class strife. If the movie's working class hero (Shia LaBeouf, looking all grown up) was tied to a railroad track by the dastardly duo of J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie, it wouldn't come as a surprise.
Set in 1900, the movie stars LaBeouf as Francis Ouimet, a young man whose dreams of playing golf appear over at 20, the victim of a working class background and a hard promise to his grizzled immigrant father (Elias Koteas). However, a benefactor at the hometown golf course where Francis caddied offers the boy a shot to play for the U.S. Open, which he qualifies for.
The game means a lot to Francis, playing in one of the world's biggest tournaments (across the street from his house, no less) against his boyhood idol, Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane). Vardon also has his own problems, with the British elite pressuring him to get the trophy back to the island, while the great golfer itches to be accepted by the same men who have always shunned him.
As Francis takes the course with a kid caddie (Josh Flitter) and moves his way through the talented pack, the game becomes a statement on the triumph of athletic ability over class. That's a great hook, but as mentioned before, Paxton and Frost handle the theme with the tact of fingernails on a chalkboard. Any of Vardon and Ouimet's emotional nuances get dwarfed every time Mr. Ouimet lectures Francis or a rich guy with a bad mustache furrows his brow over the common man ruining golf.
The heavy hand continues when Paxton hits the links. The golfing scenes are a disaster: outlandish sound effects, quick editing, and innumerable, badly CGI-enhanced shots of golf balls slicing through the air. These shots are pedantic, distracting us from the movie's real focus: a boy and a man trying to find their place in a world that has always rejected them.
The Greatest Game isn't a complete wash because the two lead performances are the antithesis of Paxton and Frost's screaming-from-the-cheap-seats style. LaBeouf is earnest and determined in all the right ways; you do root for him, even when Paxton and Frost do everything to make that impossible. Dillane creates a sympathetic figure in Vardon, who excels at a rich man's game, carries a despised background, and can't find a happy medium. Neither can Paxton, who in reveling in athletic prowess and history textbook class struggles, nearly forgets that what makes sports great are the personal battles.
He can't separate the golf course from the tees.
The second greatest game ever played.
Run time: 120 mins
In Theaters: Friday 30th September 2005
Box Office USA: $15.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $15.3M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Walt Disney Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Fresh: 69 Rotten: 41
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Bill Paxton
Screenwriter: Mark Frost
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