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THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED
Blu-ray Edition

Film review by Gordon Justesen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Stephen Dillane, Peter Firth, Elias Koteas, Josh Flitter
Director: Bill Paxton
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: June 16, 2009

“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 ****

This is a sharp, beautiful period presentation on Blu-ray.  Everything from the carefully designed interiors to the expansiveness of the golf game finale rings out with a sense of historical truth, and with beautifully rendered colors and details.  Images are sharp and well-contrasted throughout, and no grain or compression interferes with the top-notch high definition offering.

Audio ***1/2

Sports work well in surround...even golf.  This DTS HD soundtrack delivers the ambient sounds of the game, and most of the dynamic range is express by the quieter moments...you know, when golfers are teeing up, you could hear paint drying.  Dialogue and music are both well-rendered, and there is enough natural sound to make you feel like you're watching a real golf challenge unfold.

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.  And anyone who enjoys watching golf in high definition will be most enthused with this solid Blu-ray presentation.

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