One of the taglines for this film is that it is about the greatest sports hero who you probably have never heard of. The title of this movie seems odd because if an American would be asked what was the greatest game ever played you would never think that they would answer with a golf match. A World Series baseball game maybe. The gold medal hockey win at the Olympics maybe. But despite Tiger Woods' popularity in the U.S., you would never think of golf. After seeing the film you will have a better understanding of the title.
This movie is based on a true story of the 1913 U.S. Open Golf Tournament. What is identifiably American about this film are the running themes of the underdog, courage and passion for sports (see: Seabiscuit, Miracle, Cinderella Man, etc.). These are all universals that everyone, golf fan or not, can relate to. Even the golf sections are very dramatic and clear; you do not have to be a fan of the sport to follow them.
Director Bill Paxton (Frailty) has lovingly recreated the golf courses and trends of the turn of the century. He shows us the horrible conditions of the courses, the weather that the golfers are forced to play in, how golfers would smoke their pipes as they swung, and the old wooden golf clubs they used. The cinematography of the golf scenes is of high quality. It might be interesting for Montrealers to note that the Kahnawake Golf Course is where this film was shot and that local comedian Scott Faulconbridge has a small part in the film.
At its heart this is a film about class distinctions and one young man's struggle to overcome them. The film takes place around the beginning of the 20th century; it was a time where only the upper class could golf because they were members of the clubs and you had to be a member to golf.
Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf – Holes and I, Robot) is a young boy from a working class family who is a caddy at one of the golf courses. He develops a passion for golf even though he never gets to play at the club. As he gets older, Francis begins to win all the public school golf tournaments. Francis's talent is spotted by a member of the club and he sponsors Francis to play in an amateur golf tournament. Arthur Ouimet (Elias Koteas – Crash and Collateral Damage), Francis's father, is not happy about him playing golf and makes him swear that if he does not make the cut that he will give up golf forever. Francis agrees and all is going well for him in the tournament until his father shows up. Feeling the pressure, Francis misses a putt which leaves him one shot over the cut.
Francis, true to his word, begins a job in a sporting goods store. One day the president of the U.S. Open tournament approaches Francis and asks him if he would like to play in the U.S. Open, which is open to amateur golfers. Francis, remembering his promise to his father, refuses the invitation stating that he no longer plays golf.
As the tournament draws near, Francis can no longer resist the pull of the U.S. Open and declares that he has changed his mind and would now like to play. His father is not happy with his decision and tells Francis that he must leave the house once the tournament is over.
Because his original caddy is caught by the truant officer, Francis is stuck with 10-year-old Eddie Lowery (Josh Flitter – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Hide and Seek) as his caddy. Despite this set back and the fact that he has no experience playing in a major tournament, Francis is very excited to being playing against his golf hero Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane – The Hours, Spy Game), long-time British champion.
As the tournament goes on it becomes a three man showdown between Vardon, Francis and British amateur Ted Ray (Stephen Marcus – Iris, Quills). It seems like every golf fan in the United States, including President Taft (Walter Massey – Waking the Dead, Mrs. Soffel), is caught up in Francis's incredible journey to the top of the leader board. The film becomes about a battle of nerves and whether Francis can handle the pressure of the golf tournament and his father's disapproval this time around.
-A View From the Gallery: On the Set of The Greatest Game Ever Played
-Two Legends and The Greatest Game
-From Caddie to Champion: Francis Ouimet