We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
The title might have made it inevitable, but here it is: The Greatest Game Ever Played is a big letdown. Well, at least the cinematic version of it. Screenwriter Mark Frost works from his own book here, which tells the true story of allegedly the Most Exciting U.S. Open in History—1913’s, when a 20-year-old, working-class amateur named Francis Ouimet rocked the then-genteel golf world by defeating British champion and record-holder Harry Vardon. Holes’ Shia LaBeouf plays young Francis, his earnestness if not his charisma oozing through as Bill Paxton unsubtly directs. Have trouble following the ball as it soars over the green when you watch golf on TV? Don’t worry; Paxton favors disorienting, warped zooms of the holes—or, sometimes, just cartoonishly flying along with each shot. Don’t like those stovepipe-hatted aristocrats who taunted the also-working-class Vardon (Stephen Dillane—you don’t know him) when he was young? Get used to ’em, because they come back a lot. The run-up to the Big Match is quite leisurely, with plot lines including Vardon’s early difficulty breaking the class barrier, Francis’ fascination with golf as a child, and the young phenom’s later swearing off of the game, spurred by the demands of his increasingly accented father (Elias Koteas) that he dedicate himself to work. Francis is, well, nice, though neither he nor any of the other characters have any personality—except for Eddie (Josh Flitter), Francis’ 10-year-old caddy, who has so much you’ll want to strangle him. And although Vardon is portrayed as a good guy throughout most of the film, he starts scowling with over-the-top (and most unsportsmanlike) menace toward the end, along with a couple of other British players who aren’t really introduced but are supposed to be of some significance. Sure, the final scenes are mildly exciting—though Disney isn’t even trying to keep the already-in-the-record-books conclusion a secret—and Paxton manages a couple of neat, nearly silent shots in which all you hear is the ball on the grass. But that’s not enough to make this even The OKest Game Ever Played.—Tricia Olszewski