The Greatest Game Ever Played? Maybe, but certainly not the greatest movie ever made.
It’s perfectly fun (if you like golf), and moments of it are touching, but the plot plays out without anything remotely surprising occurring. From the main character, Francis Ouimet, losing in his first qualifying attempt to his father coming around at the end of the movie and supporting his son’s decision to play golf and being there to bask in his victory, there is not one moment in the entire film that the average filmgoer could not have scripted themselves.
The movie is based on a true story, but as we all know “based on” can mean anything from “the names of the characters are the same as real people” to “this is, line for line, word for word, beat for beat, what happened.” So, if this is in fact precisely what happened it ought to either be altered somewhat to make it more dramatic (and therefore simply “based on”) or rather than being sold as “based on a true story” it should have been sold as “this is the true story, seriously, this is exactly what happened.”
Bill Paxton does a capable job of directing the story he has, but there simply is not enough meat on the bones here. David and Goliath sports movies are a dime a dozen, it takes more than just a standard story for one of these films to set themselves apart and The Greatest Game Ever Played does not have much going for it in that department. It is definitely interesting to see how both Francis Ouimet & Harry Vardon try and silence the crowd around them and prepare for their shots, but the special effects, while interesting, does not make up for the lack of a more dramatic story. Additionally, the effects are clearly computer generated, which is at odds with the early 20th century trappings of the film.
Another main problem, Harry Vardon, the Goliath character here, is a good guy instead of a bad one. He is battling his own demons and sees a lot of himself in Ouimet. While that’s an interesting concept, it may also be why the movie doesn’t work dramatically: when the tension is supposed to be at its peak, the movie is about one good guy duking it out with another. There is absolutely a character with which the audience is supposed to identify more, but without someone to root against at that moment the emotional touchstone for the audience is simply not big or strong enough.
Though I am a fan of golf, this movie seems to simply reinforce the arguments against golf being a televised exhibition instead of refuting them. The entire film works at an extremely lackadaisical pace and contains no sense of urgency whatsoever. It’s beautifully shot and looks great, like many a golf course. It’s filled with solid performances by actors that truly seem to be in the moment but fail to create an emotional connection with the viewer, another argument against many a golfer.
Despite it’s best attempts at arguing that golf is for the masses (a theme within the film), this movie is made strictly for the golf fan and history buff. As such it’s perfectly interesting and makes for a fine way to spend a Sunday afternoon during the rain delay of a final round.