For any and all golf fanatics that read my reviews, I guess this review is for you. Why do I say this? Well, if you have not noticed, in Britain there was this thing called The Open Championship where lots of highly paid men got to thwack a ball around a course while people applaud for their ability to hit a tiny ball into a hole many yards away and a Northern Irishman won. I think you may be able to tell I’m not keen on the sport, or at least the watching of the sport in lieu of actually playing it.
But golf seems to capture the imagination of some so I might as well get down to the spirit of things, reach for the TV remote and turn over from the golf to a film… about golf. Well there’s no time like the present – to the obligatory overview!
Francis Ouimet (Matthew Knight) is a lowly caddy at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts becomes immensely interested in golf after watching an exhibition by British golfing legend Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane). After years of working on the course (and becoming Shia LaBoeuf in the process) a Club member, Mr Hastings (Justin Ashforth) notices his talent and asks him to play with him, something which caddies are forbidden to do.
After impressing Mr Hastings, Ouimet is put forth to qualify for the U.S Amateur. However Ouimet’s father Arthur (Elias Koteas) is unimpressed and barters that he will pay the $50 dollar entrance fee on the condition that, should Ouimet lose, he must get a proper job. Ouimet accepts and fails by one stroke to qualify. He then follows his father’s instructions and gets a ‘real job’.
However Mr Hastings offers another chance to Ouimet, but this time to play in the U.S Open, with it being delayed a few months to allow Harry Vardon and Ted Ray (Stephen Marcus) to come and play. Although frowned upon by the golfing elite, Francis Ouimet joins the ranks of legends and takes them on at their own game.
Now I know what you are thinking. I thought it too. A film with Shia LaBoeuf. That’s primed for criticism is it not? But in actuality I don’t think LaBoeuf does a bad job in this film. He’s serviceable, brings the character to life and doesn’t seem to out of place in the direction the film wants to take.
However that doesn’t take away from the fact that Ouimet could have been played by pretty much any other young actor and gotten as good a performance as LaBoeuf. It merely happens that LaBouef was “hot property” at the time so no wonder he was cast. There is nothing really negative to say about LaBouef in this film as, compared to his Transformers performances, he comes out quite well, but it does not detract from the fact that his role was not made his own.
One actor I would give recognition for making the part his own though would be Stephen Dillane. You may not know him by name, but many of you would certainly know him as Game of Thrones’ Stannis Baratheon. Dillane embodies the part brilliantly, letting you see him as not merely a golfing champion, but a man haunted (to an extent) by his past and angered by the classist nature of society. He is bold and memorable, with hints of charm washing through him, inavertedly almost making Vardon the film’s star.
But, saying that, I must give due credit to director Bill Paxton and writer Mark Frost for making the main characters not playing for national pride but rather for personal pride. Indeed, playing for national pride appears to be portrayed as a hindrance to characters and even to embody a certain form of villainy within several characters.
That point of nationalistic pride leads on nicely to one other point I found irritating about this film. It portrayed nearly all the British, Vardon and Ray aside, as chauvinistic golfer who needs to teach the ex-colonies a damn lesson about who is the superior nation really is. I was half expecting them all to be wearing top hats, have those villainously long moustaches that could twirl between their forefinger and thumb of their left, while holding a jewel-encrusted skull in their right hand and looking at a globe with America in their view whilst laughing maniacally. There is also a butler holding a tray of brandy also chuckling with the British “patriot”. Oh, and there is a tiger sleeping on a bearskin rug with its natural orange and black stripes replace by the Union Flag. I know sport is still quite nationalistic today as it probably was then and the British are not alone in their nationalistic fervour (see John McDermott) but it is so nationalistic it almost wants to make you want to burn any and all references to national pride that you own.
What I do like is when they go about class issues and how the world, at the time of 1913, is still beset by class division. The film’s main point appears to be, despite the fervent nationalism thrown around which may or may not been as prevalent at the time than the film suggests, that it is not where you are born into that defines you, rather, it is who you are that makes you into the great person you may or may not become. Vardon and Ouimet hammer this point home quite thoroughly, perhaps even a little brutally, throughout the film. However the message is a poignant one which fills you with a sense that it is almost you “sticking it to the man”.
That’s all fine and dandy. It shows the lower class man show that he can play against the gentlemen and beat them at their own game. However when the film tries to divert itself from that it tends to weaken substantially, showing glimpses of LaBoeuf’s acting future. The main perpetrator of this is Peyton List as LaBouef’s love interest Sarah Wallis. I know this was her first film after being in American soap opera As the World Turns, but her role is completely shoehorned in.
The only thing Wallis does of any significance is give Ouimet’s caddy Eddie Lowery (Josh Flitter), a character who, while may be accurate, is annoyingly chipper, a good luck charm to give to Ouimet when he inevitably is having a crisis of confidence. Aside from that, she does nothing much apart from stand around in pretty dresses flirting with Ouimet and being the girl of the film that isn’t Ouimet’s mother, who also has no purpose in the film except for looking worried and supporting Ouimet’s golfing dreams.
Finally, and I know this may be a bit of a niggle for me and a perfectly justifiable use of special effects, but this film spends too long on making golf look more dramatic than it really is. The visualisation of the hole, the following the ball shot, the clearing of all distraction so it looks like only the golfer and the hole exist, and so on. I grant you there are good once or twice, but they saturate this film so much that about halfway through the golfing part of this film, it really bores you. It is as if the director wanted every possible way to make golf interesting used and didn’t believe that too much might be a bad thing.
But despite my many criticisms of the film, it is still a somewhat enjoyable to watch. It moves at a steady pace, makes you invested in most, though not all, of the characters and makes golf appear to be a more interesting sport than it actually is for the film’s duration, so to that extent it can be considered a success. While not as engaging as my other, and only, sport film I reviewed (being Wimbledon), it still does enough to make golf seem an interesting prospect, before you realise what a bore it actual is.