The Greatest Game Ever Played
The most impressive thing about this movie was its ability to make a golf game ridiculously suspenseful and gripping. Despite being relatively confident of the film’s eventual ending, I remained on the edge of my seat for a solid 15 minutes at the very least.
The Greatest Game Ever Played recounts in relatively accurate detail (by Hollywood standards) the story of Francis Ouimet’s (Shia LaBeouf) improbable run in the 1913 U.S. Open, a time in which golf was played only by the wealthy upper class. Francis enters the tournament with some prodding by a friendly country club member for whom Francis caddies, and he attempts to compete with his childhood idol, Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane). Vardon and his British compatriot Ted Ray (Stephen Marcus), have traveled from Britain in order to win the U.S. Open and take the American trophy home with them to England. I assumed that the filmmakers would portray Vardon and Ray as villains, making them arrogant and rude, but apparently director Bill Paxton wanted to stay reasonably true to the actual material instead of providing the audience with a gimme bad guy to hate. Harry Vardon is actually quite a sympathetic character in the film, as he comes from a similar background as Francis. Despite his prominence and fame as the greatest golfer in the world, his parentage and impoverished background prevent him from acceptance in British high society—forced to work at the very country club that refuses to grant him membership. Vardon is haunted by the men who still look down on him and sees in Francis a younger version of himself. The wealthy gentlemen with whom Francis competes in the U.S. Open despise Francis for having the audacity to be poor and yet still gifted at golf. He is refused a caddy and is forced to settle for 10 year-old Eddie Lowery, a tenacious kid with a plethora of catchy clichés that often diffuse the pressure that threatens to overcome Francis.
Entwined with the actual tournament itself is the struggle between Francis and his father, in which his dad insists that Francis give up his damn fool ideals and go to work in the mines. Or something equally less exciting. His mother, however, is insistent upon encouraging Francis’ dreams, so she spends the majority of her screen time with a distressed expression on her face to show that she is, in fact, nervous about Francis’ performance in the tournament. The golfing scenes themselves were very interesting and increasingly suspenseful, although there was a considerable amount of slow-motion used for many of the more potent moments in order to further convey to the audience that there is an important event occurring, please pay strict attention. Which we obligingly did.
What I really liked about this movie was that, as far as I have read, it stays reasonably true to the actual story. There are of course some Hollywood embellishments for dramatic effect, but for all intents and purposes, the major details remained intact. The would-be antagonist of the story, Harry Vardon, is allowed to be three-dimensional, which prevents him from being used as the stereotypical villain. Francis himself is not presented as being a veritable saint, although in reality he was in fact a modest and well-mannered man, which is exactly how the film portrays him.
I very highly recommend The Greatest Game Ever Played as a relatively honest account of the historic 1913 U.S. Open, and Francis Ouimet’s resulting impact on the game of golf. I thoroughly enjoy American sports hero movies, and I recommend this one as a great example of a well-told true story.