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Toon Talk: The Greatest Game Ever Played
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by Kirby Holt (archives)
September 30, 2005
Kirby reviews Disney's latest live-action release The Greatest Game Ever Played.
Toon Talk: From the Other Side
Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
(c) Disney

The Greatest Game Ever Played
Walt Disney Pictures


In the realm of sports-themed movies, the subject of golf has rarely been a hole-in-one. But then again, most golf movies hardly get the chance to tee off - for every Caddyshack or Tin Cup, there are dozens of other films centered on the more cinematic spectacles of football, baseball and basketball. With those kind of odds, no wonder such attempts as The Legend of Bagger Vance and Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius ended up in the sand traps of audience apathy (and I promise to cut out the golf metaphors for the remainder).

It is precisely this lack of predecessors (and the accompanying lack of built-in clichés) that makes the newest entry into the golf sub-genre, The Greatest Game Ever Played, stand so far above the crowd, in the same crowd-pleasing way that Disney’s previous family friendly sports movies (Remember the Titans, The Rookie and Miracle) have achieved in the past few years. Of course, the marketing department has fallen over itself to make sure you know this Game is in the same league as that trio of hits, and not so much about what is commonly viewed as that most boring of games to watch. But they need not have tried so hard; actor-turned-director Bill Paxton delivers the seemingly impossible: he makes golf exciting.

(c) Disney

Paxton (along with cinematographer Shane Hurlbut and editor Elliott Graham) accomplishes this with a whip-smart visual flair that not only takes the viewer along for the ride of a well-placed putt, but also into the beautiful minds of the golfers themselves, with cleverly created images of how the men, in their mind’s eye, strip away all the surrounding distractions so that it is just them, their club, the ball and the hole. They lavish the same care in presenting the mechanics of the game itself (making it easier to follow for those of us who don’t know a nine iron from an ironing board), expertly weaving it into the fabric of what the story is really about, American class distinctions at the turn of the century. Now that may sound about as interesting as, well, watching a round of golf, but Paxton and screenwriter Mark Frost (adapting from his own book of the same name) manage the delicate balance of reality versus sentimentality, a feat even more impressive considering their film is “based on a true story?, five little words that usually makes one reach for the insulin or a handkerchief, depending on your disposition.

Long before Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, there was Harry Vardon and Francis Ouimet, two legendary golfers who changed the face of the sport nearly a century ago. Vardon (played by The Hours’ Stephen Dillane) was England’s number one pro, having brought home victory before from the U.S. Open as well as on his home turf with a record-setting six wins at the British Open (a record that remains unchallenged still). On the other hand, Francis was the son of an immigrant, working on the sidelines as a caddy for a swank golf club, yearning to find himself on the other side of the green.

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