FOR LOVE OF THE GAME
Review by Michael Jacobson
Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston, John C. Reilly, Jena Malone, Brian Cox
Director: Sam Raimi
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Features: See Review
Length: 138 Minutes
Release Date: April 4, 2000
Despite panning from critics, I still went into For
Love of the Game feeling that I was going to like it.
I’m a huge baseball fan, and generally enjoy most movies that deal with
the game. I wasn’t concerned
about the love story angle…after all, one of my all time favorite films, The Natural, balanced the game and romance nicely.
Kevin Costner and baseball have always made for good on-screen
entertainment, and the movie was directed by Sam Raimi.
I’ve never seen a film by Sam Raimi that I didn’t like.
As the saying goes, there’s a first time for everything.
I try to take solace in the fact that I believe deep down that Raimi was
no more than a director for hire for this picture.
It was produced by Costner’s own TIG productions, and history has shown
that he tends to dominate all aspects of production of films that come from his
own company (see: Waterworld).
Plus, some of the material here was so poor, I doubt any director could
have really salvaged it fully.
This is about as bad a Jekyll/Hyde syndrome as you’ll see
in a film. It’s part baseball
story, part romance, but the two aspects don’t really work together because
they each have such a distinct and separate feel to them.
The baseball story involves an aging pitcher, Billy Chapel (Costner),
who’s reached the point all professional athletes have to face up to sooner or
We learn that Chapel has had a Hall of Fame type career, but the effects
of getting older and the inevitable aches and pains that come with it have taken
their toll on his performance in recent years.
He’s going to start the last game of the season, leading his Tigers
against the Yankees in New York, knowing that afterwards, he’ll either have to
retire or accept a trade.
I was absorbed by every aspect of the baseball story,
showing Chapel on the verge of pitching a perfect game, and the drama that
intensified as the game went on, and Chapel fighting more and more shoulder pain
along the way. In this part of the
film, Raimi triumphs. He takes us
deep inside the major league game, and shows us what it looks like and how it
feels from the inside…to stand on the mound with thousands of people screaming
at you, to watch from the dugout, to see the pitches coming at you…plus, what
better setting for a baseball movie than the legendary Yankee stadium?
I loved every moment of it.
The problem, then, is the constant flashbacks to Chapel’s
on again, off again relationship with Jane Aubrey (Preston).
In these scenes, the film nearly approaches the unbearable tediousness of
The Story of Us.
The dialogue is weak, unreal, and with a high wince factor.
Two examples: Jane calls
Billy on the road, hysterical because her daughter (Malone) ran away, probably
heading to her father. This is the
first Billy and we, the audience learn of this teenage daughter.
Billy happens to be in the town where the girl is headed, can he help?
“What’s her name?” he asks. “Freedom,”
she replies. Pause.
“Scared you, didn’t I? It’s
Heather.” Just the thing a panicked mother would say.
The second involves a scene where Billy is taken to the
emergency room with a cut hand, and can’t get immediate attention.
Jane stands in the middle of the room and screams, “Isn’t this
America? Isn’t baseball
America’s most favorite pastime?” I
actually squirmed in my seat at that point…and these two examples are merely
And there’s more to the Jekyll/Hyde theory.
Costner is great in the baseball story.
He’s believable to the point where even his pitching looks authentic
enough for the big leagues. Physically, he’s right, and his performance is strong.
In the love story, however, he always looks as lost and uncomfortable as
we are. It doesn’t help that his
leading lady Preston proves once again she’s simply a pretty face with very
little acting range, and it certainly was no help to her to have to work from a
script that was so poor to begin with.
What do you get when you combine two decidedly different
story lines and try to make a single, coherent picture out of them?
A mess, to be quite frank. Despite
the greatness of the baseball story, the love story strangles it too much to
earn a recommendation. Billy Chapel
may be heading for the Hall, but this picture probably should be stuffed in a
convenient closet along the way.
This is a mostly impressive anamorphic transfer from
Universal…very few complaints. For
the most part, images are crisp and well defined, and colors are nicely rendered
and contained. The print is free
from scars and artifacts. Only a
couple of problems worth noting—one nighttime scene that takes place outside
of Jane’s house that exhibits a little grain, and one overly saturated scene
when Billy and Jane first meet, where the light comes across too strong,
weakening the colors and softening the images.
Apart from those minor, fleeting moments, this still represents a quality
effort from Universal.
This 5.1 audio mix typifies what’s wrong with the film:
every time it traverses from the game to the love story, it becomes less
interesting. The game scenes are
the biggest audio assets, with a full range of crowd noise and other game
dynamics that make good use of all surround channels and subtle uses of the .1
speaker. The sound is ambient and
multi-dimensional there. During the
other scenes, the soundtrack loses dynamics, and even dialogue sounds rather
flat and unmixed. The musical score
is fine, and comes across in a nice spread across all speakers.
But the game scenes really redeem, and make the listening experience
Though not billed as a Collector’s Edition disc, there
are few good features worth noting, including a Spotlight on Location
featurette, a trailer (if only the movie were as good as this trailer is!),
deleted scenes, some DVD ROM extras, info on the history of the perfect game,
and a baseball trivia game, which, when completed successfully, leads to one of
the coolest Easter eggs I’ve yet seen…a short film called “Slide, Babe,
Slide” in remarkable condition, and featuring the legendary Babe Ruth giving
some pointers to a young sandlot baseball team.
For me, it was the best part of the whole disc.
For Love of the Game is a classic example about how the enjoyment can be sapped from a movie’s shining moments by the moments that struggle to breathe. Both Kevin Costner and Sam Raimi have had finer moments, and no doubt will again, and the sooner both of them put this picture behind them, the better.