Hippo Manchester
October 6, 2005


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The Greatest Game Ever Played (PG)
by Amy Diaz

Golf receives its annual two hours of deification in the warm and squishy The Greatest Game Ever Played, the Disney tale of the little working-class golfer who could.

Who could what, exactly? Well, for starters, who could keep up the same look of hopeful excitement for what felt like an eternity of nonsense attempting to obscure the fact that in a sports story like this the good guy always wins.

I don’t feel too bad about letting that fact go — history books (boring ones, I suppose) can tell you what happened in 1913 when Francis Ouimet (Shia LeBeouf) played Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) at the U.S. Open. But because both these men were of working-class roots in a time when golf was for “gentlemen” we’ve got to spend a large chunk of time examining class differences and making sure we all understand the wrongness of snobbery. So we have to get scenes of Vardon’s anxieties manifesting themselves as top-hat-wearing nobles and Ouimet’s brushes with the mockery of the country club set, for whom he once caddied, that now does not want to see him on the green. And, because Ouimet is an energetic young man at the start of a modern century and simple snobbery is not enough to keep him down, we get plenty of scenes with Ouimet’s father (Elias Koteas) angrily ordering Francis to know his place.

And then there’s the golf, the endless golf which, like, say, a movie about someone who loves to read, is difficult to make look interesting to people not actually engaged in the activity. The golf continues forever with nearly identical shots of pre-swing concentration and post-swing cheers.  Swelling music helps us understand that golf is Great and Important and A Metaphor For Life — all of which are sentiments so firmly beat into us by previous movies that they are almost unbearable here. The Greatest Game Ever Played may be a love letter to golf fans but for the rest of us it’s just a good nap spoiled.