In the late 1800’s a poor family on the British island of Jersey is evicted from their home to make way for the construction of a golf course for gentlemen. The son, Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane), grows up to be the only six-time winner of the British Open Gold tournament in history. Years later when he is visiting Boston he gives tips to young Francis Ouimet who is fascinated by golf.
Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf) lives next to a golf course Brookline, MA and becomes a caddy. Although his father (Elias Koteas) disapproves, they make a bargain. If Francis loses, he will give up golf and reminds Francis that he should stay in his own social class. Francis signs up for an amateur tournament but he never gets beyond the qualifying round. Francis gets a job in a sports store.
In 1913, when Francis is 20 years old, the U.S. Open comes to Boston. Some of the men from the club who believe in Francis’ potential as an amateur convince him to compete against professionals, including Vardon. That tournament became known as the greatest game ever played. The only caddy left for Francis is a ten-year old named Eddie (Josh Flitter) who provides much of the humor and wisdom in the film.
This film got my attention from the beginning. Actor Bill Paxton (A Simple Plan, U-571) directs and the writing by Mark Frost (the script is based on his own book) uses dialogue sparingly so that we focus on the action. It was a big surprise to me that there is plenty of it.
The Greatest Game Ever Played is a typical Disney feel-good movie, inspirational and all, but it has much dignity. One of the strongest themes is social status and social class. We learn that Vardon is a Catholic and the British golf association decides to let him in, even though he is not in their class. I am glad the writer used this theme because it highlights that greatness does not come from birth, but from the true character of a man.
The film also helped me understand golf a little better. For someone who would rather watch water boil than look at golf, this is a true confession. (I also have a wonderful nephew who is an outstanding player and is going to college on a golf scholarship, so I guess I’d better like it.)J