The Greatest Game Ever Played

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Disney has recently established a highly profitable cottage industry of wholesome, uplifting sports dramas that would make Bob the Builder proud. Boasting “yes we can” stories of victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, movies like Miracle, The Rookie and Remember the Titans are long on sentiment and short on artistry. Hockey, baseball and football have been covered, and with next year’s basketball movie Glory Road slated for release, one has to wonder, what’s next? Badminton?

As it turns out, it’s something even less thrilling: golf. Based on the true story of the 1913 U.S. Open, The Greatest Game Ever Played follows the highly publicized transatlantic showdown between British golf legend Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) and unknown American caddy, Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf). A classic tale of the seasoned champion versus the humble underdog, it’s a nifty bit of sports history that could have made an effective drama. Too bad screenwriter Mark Frost has no idea whose story he wants to tell, and director Bill Paxton doesn’t help much.

When not sidelined by poorly developed subplots and random supporting characters, the film ricochets back and forth between Vardon and Ouimet without actually telling us much about either. We never understand why these men love the game or why we should care about the outcome. The film briefly sputters about class struggles in England and America, but very little comes of it. Instead, Frost tries to cover his story from so many angles that the movie loses itself to rambling side trips and irrelevant interludes.

Paxton — whose directorial debut, Frailty, demonstrated a surprisingly sure hand — struggles mightily to tame Frost’s mess of a script. Pumping up the golf action with elaborate CG effects and moments of overwrought tension, he occasionally succeeds at drawing us into the game, particularly during the film’s last half-hour — but eventually it all wears thin. The cast is competent but has little to sink their teeth into. It says something about a film when its liveliest character is one of the smallest roles. Joshua Flitter steals the show as Ouimet’s smart-mouthed 10-year-old caddy, Eddie Lowery.

It’s clear that Disney hopes for this to be the Seabiscuit of golf. But without drama, depth of character or weight of history, the result is a film about inspiration that’s remarkably uninspiring.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for MetroTimes. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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