When you give a movie the title “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” expectations will be pretty high. When it turns out that the game in question is a golf match that occured almost a century ago between two people most people have never heard of, expectations plummet. This movie is somewhere in the middle.
Golf is not the most cinematic of sports. Director Bill Paxton has a nicely kinetic feel for the game, and does the best anyone could to give us a sense of the game’s beauty in the power of the drives and the precision of the putts. He also gives us some insight into the mental state of the competitors, as they try to clear their minds of fears and distractions. But any golf movie is going to have many, many shots of little white balls going into (or just missing) the hole, hitting the ball out of sand traps and water hazards, men with furrowed brows peering down the course, and the spectators in the gallery trudging along to the next shot. This one, with a three-day tournament to get through, has too many players and too many holes and gets a little lost in the rough.
But straight down the middle is a nice underdog story about a 20-year-old former caddy who beats the greatest player in the world. The talented Shia LeBoeuf plays Francis Ouimet who grew up across the street from the local golf course. He loves golf, but his father forces him to give it up. Then his idol, British champion Harry Varden (Stephen Dillane), comes to play in the U.S. Open, at the very golf club across the street from his house.
Francis enters as an amateur. He is treated with contempt by the members of the club, who believe that golf is a game only for the upper classes. The only caddy he can get is a 10-year-old boy hardly as big as the bag he has to carry. But if he didn’t have what it takes, we wouldn’t be making a movie about him, now, would we?
The best part of the movie is the interaction between Ouimet and Varden, who had more in common with each other than the minor difference of a world-class competition. Varden, too, was looked down on by the British golf establishment because of his humble origins. As somone who believed that
Parents should know that the movie has brief mild language, some ugly insults, and some tense emotional confrontations. Characters smoke cigarettes and a pipe. One character punches another in the nose.
Families who see this movie should talk about why golf was so important to Francis Ouimet and Harry Vardon. Why was it important to the wealthy and powerful people to keep talented but poor players out of the game? What made Francis change his mind about playing? What made his father change his mind? Why did Francis stay an amateur? Why doesn’t he tell Varden that they met once before?
Families who want to find out more about Francis Ouimet can read the book, also called The Greatest Game Ever Played.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy some of the classic golf movies, like the Tracy-Heburn comedy Pat and Mike (featuring some of the golf legends of the era and a very young Charles Bronson, still using his original name) and Tin Cup (mature material). Golf fans will enjoy the golf stories of P.G. Wodehouse, collected in Fore!: The Best of Wodehouse on Golf.