The Greatest Game Ever Played tells the story of when the amateur golfer Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBouef) finds himself up against his hero, Harry Vardan (Stephen Dillane) in the 1913 US Open.
I’m not a massive fan of sports anymore, and even when I did follow sports I was never really into golf (although my father LOVES golf) but I do like sports movies and I think they capture a particular type of drama that is unique to the genre. Golf is at the heart of this story, and I like that it doesn’t lose focus of the sport, but there’s a lot of other stuff going on, mainly about class warfare. I thought all the main characters were portrayed with dignity and there were plenty of moments when the prejudices were challenged, one was a particularly passionate speech from Vardan to one of the important members of his club.
I liked how there were parallels and similarities drawn between Ouimet and Vardan, but the other golfers were all interesting as well. All the character work was brilliant and subtle and I felt the authenticity of the attitudes portrayed, even though some of them were horrible. It’s interesting to see how much the sport has changed in a hundred years as well, and also how much it has stayed the same. One of the more touching scenes was between Ouimet and his caddy, Eddie (Josh Flitter), who pretty much stole the show. I loved their friendship and how the two of them worked together. I just thought it was brilliant how the characters were allowed to breathe and develop naturally throughout the course of the film.
The other main strength of the film was the direction. There were some really inventive shots that brought the golf parts to life, one that I loved was how the director blended 5 golfers’ different swings into one image, creating this blurry slideshow effect. I also liked the way Harry Vardan’s technique of visualising the golf course was displayed. It was really a gorgeous film to watch but none of the camerawork or effects distracted from the film, rather they complemented it and deepened the appreciation. It’s directed by Bill Paxton so I supposed I shouldn’t be too surprised because he directed the excellent Frailty as well, which you should see if you haven’t already.
This is a really underrated sports film. It doesn’t deviate from the traditional sports-film template too much (but it’s based on a true story so they couldn’t exactly have changed how it ends) but it’s really enjoyable and has a lot of substance as well.