Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Shia LaBeouf……….Francis Ouimet
Stephen Dillane……….Harry Vardon
Michael Weaver……….John J. McDermott
Stephen Marcus……….Ted Ray
Elias Koteas……….Arthur Ouimet
Marnie McPhail……….Mary Ouimet
Golf movies have generally been the one area of movies that generally scrapes the bottom of the barrel. Outside of Caddyshack, arguably the funniest movie of the past 30 years, mediocre to awful movies have littered the greens of cinematic golf including Happy Gilmore, Tin Cup and one of the more ill-advised sequels of recent memory in Caddyshack 2. And into this near barren wasteland of ill-conceived movies involving the sport of golf comes The Greatest Game Ever Played.
The Greatest Game Ever Played stars Shia LaBeouf as Francis Ouimet. Francis is the son of a laborer. His father wants him to learn a trade when he gets into the world. He has one insatiable love that isn’t as compatible with his working class origins: golf. And he’s pretty good at it, too. In a time before the Williams sisters would go from the tattered neighborhoods of Compton to the pinnacle of tennis at Wimbledon in search of fame and fortune, Francis is expected to work.
Golf is for the upper class, those with enough wealth to be able to afford a membership. Sports in this time were for the privileged few. So when he is afforded the opportunity to play in the 1913 U.S. Open, against his father’s wishes he takes this rare opportunity. Based off a true story, Ouimet’s win is something we already know. Playing against a golfing legend Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) and the likes of top professionals of the day, Ouimet’s improbable victory is something the movie climaxes at. We know he’s going to win; it has been ordained in history’s annals. It is how he gets there is what makes it special. And starting requires a hero we can get behind.
Shia LeBeouf’s Francis is the sort of character that is perfect for the sort of plucky underdog role this movie requires. He isn’t a naÃƒÂ¯ve boy trying to be something he’s not; he’s a young man who wants to show the world that he’s the best. Not because of whom his father is, not because of how much he has, because he is the best. He isn’t a well-developed hero, but LeBeouf brings enough charm to the role where he becomes easy to root for. He isn’t a predictable, clichÃƒÂ©-ridden hero out of a normal sports underdog movie. And what makes it even better is that there is no villain for him to defeat.
Vardon is not a stereotyped sports villain out to beat Francis. He’s a golfer at the peak, competing for the sake of his love of golf. There is no demonization, which would happen in an inferior movie. He doesn’t use clichÃƒÂ©-ridden dialogue or be intolerant to Francis or his fellow golfers. He’s a professional trying to win, which is refreshing in a genre that features predictably dumbed down character.
The plot, though, is relatively predictable. But at the same time, it has to be. There is a certain point where history just can’t be rewritten, no matter how much we want it to be. Certain scenes and sequences are predictable in advance, if only because they are necessary. But it isn’t something that impedes the entire movie. The dramatic tension developed by Paxton makes up for its inherent predictability.
Paxton is able to turn a foregone conclusion into a drama-heavy atmosphere. Ouimet has the usual sort of pratfalls and rises to the top, but how he does it is shockingly well done. He learns from his mistakes and develops as a golfer from the time we first see him on screen.