A period golf drama for kids, "Greatest Game Ever Played" is based upon writer Mark Frost's non-fiction book regarding the 1913 U.S. Open, a particularly noteworthy event that involved one Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old who managed to work his way into competition, despite being an amateur who gave up the game during part of his teenage years, due to the objections of his father (Elias Koteas). Ouimet has worked the course for years as a caddie and although there are some objections, his years of practice have made him into a potential threat to the other players and the choice of the locals to enter the match.
So, when the local pros come calling, telling Francis that he'd be up against players that include two of England's finest - Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) and Ted Ray (Stephen Marcus) - he accepts. Francis actually shares a lot in common with Vardon, who also grew up in a working class background. It's a pleasant change (in a movie that sticks to formula and offers really no surprises) that the Vardon character is essentially a nice guy instead of the villain this character usually is. That role is reserved for a few other characters in the movie, such as Ouimet's father, who doesn't want his son to play golf because it's "not his place" among the upper class, who don't truly accept him.
Francis goes against his father's wishes, gets a 10-year-old caddie (Joshua Flitter) and goes up against two of the best in the match, which starts after a fairly lengthy build-up of about 45 minutes. The majority of the tale functions as a standard underdog tale, with the unlikely Francis quickly gaining on his competition.
The film's predictability (I'm guessing most can guess how this ends before it begins) and overlong (the movie is two hours even, but dropping a good 15 minutes from the first hour could have aided the pacing) running time does result in the film occasionally feeling somewhat lacking in urgency at times, but the performances do certainly help matters. I've never been all that impressed with a performance from LeBouf ("Holes"), but he offers what I think is his best effort yet here. It's not a showy performance at all, but a charming one that often sells a moment with just a reaction. A romantic subplot for Francis could have been lost, as it feels underdeveloped and therefore, unnecessary.
Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut ("Crazy/beautiful") creates some lovely visuals during the golf scenes and elsewhere, but in an apparent attempt to give the movie some visual punch, effects have been added to the swings. We get shots from the view of the ball and even an absolutely pointless moment where a CGI ladybug decides to plop down on a ball just as a golfer is winding up his swing (the ladybug does manage to fly away - somehow.) Despite the overuse of CGI and correctly predicting how the movie would end, I found myself gradually getting into the film in the second half as the tension built on the close golf match.
Overall, "Greatest" doesn't seem as great as it could be, but it certainly offers a fine lead performance from LeBouf, a moderately uplifting (if quite formulaic) tale and once the golf gets underway, the movie starts to get in gear. The villains are cartoonish and the pacing in the first half could have been bumped up a bit, but the movie gradually pulled me back in during the second half. A mild recommendation.
VIDEO: "Greatest Game Ever Played" is presented by Disney in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is perfectly fine aside from a couple of minor issues here-and-there. Sharpness and detail were mostly terrific, as aside from a couple of scenes, the picture looked crisp and well-defined.
The only issue that did cause some minor distraction was edge enhancement, which is visible in a handful of scenes throughout the movie. However, no print flaws or pixelation issues were noticed. Colors remained rich and nicely saturated, with no smearing or other concerns. Black level also looked solid, while flesh tones appeared accurate.
SOUND: "Greatest Game Ever Played" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's shots on the golf course in general do offer some minor ambience from the rear speakers to open out the soundtrack, as well as some effects during the moments where the camera follows the ball towards the hole. Audio quality remained lovely throughout, as the score sounded rich and vibrant, while dialogue was crisp, clear and free of distortion or other issues.
EXTRAS: Two different commentaries are offered - one from director Bill Paxton and the other from writer/producer Mark Frost. Paxton offers a fun, low-key commentary that only gets sidetracked on a few occasions when Paxton goes a little long in praising those he worked with. Otherwise, the commentary does do a fine job discussing the details about casting, Paxton's thoughts about directing, technical issues and production obstacles. Frost's commentary discusses the real-life story, giving the viewer further insights into the characters and the era.
The "making of" documentary here is, "A View from the Gallery: On the Set of The Greatest Game Ever Played". It's a quick and enjoyable piece as these kinds of features go, offering some insightful interviews about the look of the picture, the cast and other production concerns. It's not terribly in-depth, but as EPK-style stuff goes, this is above average. "Two Legends and the Greatest Game" is a shorter piece on the characters. Finally, "From Caddie to Champion" offers a look at the real Francis Ouimet and runs about 25 minutes.
Final Thoughts: "Greatest Game" is predictable, but once golf got going in the second half, the movie started to gain my interest more. Additionally, LeBouf offers what I think is his best performance here. The DVD edition provides very good audio/video quality, as well as a nice set of supplements. Rent it.
The Film B-