A few years ago, it was suggested to me that I sit down a and watch The Greatest Game Ever Played. I was told that not only was it well-directed, but that it told an interesting — and true — story and exhibited an incredible enthusiasm for the game of golf. Naturally, I sat right down and watched the film, after all, the advice came from the golf pro giving me lessons. The Bill Paxton (Frailty) directed picture has now come to Blu-ray, and consequently, it is now my turn to pass on the advice my instructor gave me – watch this movie.
The Greatest Game Ever Played focuses on the 1913 U.S. Open, and the showdown between young amateur Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf) and golf elder statesman Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane). Though the two men grew up on opposite sides of the Atlantic at different times, the film shows how they both found themselves on the outside of a gentleman's game, looking in. The men came to golf in different ways — Vardon learned to play as a way to get back at those who took his family home when he was a youth, and Francis for the far more simple reason that he lived across from a country club and could make money as a caddie — but were both treated poorly by those who “belonged.” Even so, the film makes it quite clear that both Vardon and Ouimet longed for acceptance into a society which didn't want them. The film is, at its heart, one which focuses on a form of social injustice – money, it correctly argues, neither makes one a better person nor gives one magical golf powers.
However, if the film were solely a message movie, it would be nowhere near as thrilling and exciting to watch as it is. Paxton's direction of Mark Frost's screenplay (based on Frost's own book), depicts golf in brilliant and dizzying fashion. The film gets into the mind of Vardon, Ouimet, and some of the other participants in the tournament, helping the audience visualize just how a sportsman is able to block out the world around them and focus on the task at hand. Paxton doesn't just stop by depicting one focusing technique, he gives Ouimet and Vardon very different methods, showing that there is not a one size fits all method of concentration.
Despite being a movie about the “staid” game of golf and revolving around a story that takes place nearly a century ago, Paxton is able to incorporate CGI work and some truly fancy editing techniques to help the film build to its crescendo. Paxton is able to get the viewer's heart pumping as though they were watching Tiger take on Rocco (or insert your own edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting, sports moment here).
The performances, on the whole, are good ones, although LaBeouf does seem a tad too earnest and fresh-faced as Ouimet. Josh Flitter, who plays Ouimet's 10-year-old caddie, Eddie, is however the most distressing of the actors. The character, even if it is true to life, is simply too cutesy for the film.
The video and audio quality of the Blu-ray are truly outstanding. The textures on clothing, the blades of grass, and the patterns on golf balls all come across in crisp, brilliant 1080p high definition. The sounds of the gallery thunder around the viewer as every stroke is made. The dialogue and music come across equally well, every word is understandable and there is absolutely no need to sit with the remote in hand constantly adjusting the volume. The clothing, clubs, and mannerisms make one believe that the film takes place a century ago, but no attempt is made to make the audio or visuals feel remotely that old.
As for special features, the release is a little sparse. Two commentary tracks exist for the feature – one from Paxton and the other from Frost. While Paxton spends a lot of time going through his thinking and how the film was put together, Frost focuses himself on the truth behind the events. There is also a traditional making of documentary, as well as one on the 1913 battle between Ouimet and Vardon. Finally there is a piece filmed in the early 1960s, just before another U.S. Open at the same country club in Brookline, MA in which Ouimet is interviewed. Though some of what Ouimet discusses is nominally interesting, the discussion is nowhere near as captivating as the film itself.
Though perhaps geared towards a slightly younger audience, The Greatest Game Ever Played, is a truly wonderful look at the game of golf and its early days in the U.S. It conveys so much of what makes golf a great sport — the skill it requires, the love people who play feel for it, and the sense of pride and accomplishment one has after hitting a truly perfect shot. If one is ever trying to understand why someone would go out one weekend and spend four hours hitting a little white ball into sand, a tree, and then into a creek, and cursing the entire time only to do it again the next weekend, look no further.