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THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Stephen Dillane, Peter Firth, Elias Koteas, Josh Flitter
Director: Bill Paxton
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: April 11, 2006

“If Mr. Ouimet wins tomorrow, it’s because he’s the best, because of who he is. Not who his father was, not how much money he’s got, because of who he bloody is!”

Film ***

The Greatest Game Ever Played follows something of a sports movie formula, but it’s a purely high spirited and at times moving film experience. It tells a story that’s impossible not to get swept up in and by the end of it; your heart will be lifted to highest of highs. In terms of sports camaraderie, it’s one of the best film depictions I’ve seen.

Director Bill Paxton does a stunning job of recapturing the feel of the period, which in this case is 1913 New England. His directing is one of the big strengths of the picture. Watching it, you get an immediate sense that this is one story Paxton was very passionate about telling through film.

The story tells of a young man named Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf), who lives in a working class family. Right near his home is the prestigious Country Club of Brookline, Massachusetts. Francis has always had a love for the game and a strong desire to play one day. But it’s been the demands of his stern father (Elias Koteas) that has kept him from fulfilling his dreams.

Nonetheless, Francis becomes employed as a caddie at the Country Club and even manages to sneak in some playing time for himself. His golden opportunity for his shot at glory came in the form of the U.S. Amateur. But unfortunately for Francis, he found himself eliminated in the first round. It seemed that he suffered the ultimate blow to his lifelong dream.

But the heart of the story is all about Francis’ second chance at getting to play the game. The U.S. Open of 1913 is about to begin, but that’s not what has Francis in anticipation. What does have him excited is the fact that Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane), who at the time was regarded as the best person to ever play the game, will be playing. Francis sees an opportunity to go up against a man that he very much respects.

The film also tells of Vardon, who we learn came from the very same upbringing as Francis, right down to the similarity of being born right across from a golf course. As he is seen as the world’s greatest player, we see Vardon as a man being pressured by England to achieve ultimate greatness. Dillane’s performance is a marvelous one. Instead of being characterized as a typical sports movie adversary, we see that he is truly identical to his opponent, whom he comes to respect.

Nearly the second hour of the film is a recreation of the 1913 U.S. Open, which is one of the most intense show-stopping matches of golf to ever be played. Having known nothing about this game, let’s just say that I was more than surprised by the final outcome. It will definitely have you cheering at a Rocky level.

Wonderfully directed and marvelously performed, The Greatest Game Ever Played is a pure sports movie joy. It depicts a level of sports competition that has seldom been seen in the movies. I’m not the worlds biggest golf fan, and even I was able to get swept up in it.

Video ****

Disney delivers one stunning looking disc with this anamorphic presentation. Director Bill Paxton has applied a great deal of detail to the picture in terms of color and lighting, and it shows terrifically in this flawless presentation. Picture quality is nothing but sharpness and clarity from beginning to end. A first rate presentation.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix is a dynamic and crisp sound mix for sure. There’s a lot dialogue in between the golf scenes, but those sequences make the sound presentation shine the most. Various audio effects are helped in these scenes, drawing the viewer in even more. The music score by Brian Tyler also does a magnificent job on the channels. Dialogue delivery is well delivered as well.

Features ***

Disney strikes just right note of extras for this release. Included are two commentary tracks; one with director Bill Paxton, the second with screenwriter Mark Frost. Also featured are three featurettes; “A View From the Gallery”, “Two Legends and The Greatest Game”, and “From Caddy to Champion: Francis Ouimet”.

Summary:

The Greatest Game Ever Played is top-flight storytelling that the entire family is sure to enjoy and be moved by. It’s simply a marvelous piece of filmmaking and one that golf fanatics are certain to be awestruck by.

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