Anyone who never considered golf a hotbed of class conflict—that is, pretty much everyone—will be enlightened by The Greatest Game Ever Played, Bill Paxton’s adaptation of Mark Frost’s 2002 nonfiction bestseller. The story details the 1913 U.S. Open rivalry between Yank amateur Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf) and British pro Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane), both of whom had working-class roots and battled golf’s upper-crust gatekeepers for the right to play. Paxton gives Frost’s screenplay the full Disney polish, with squeaky-clean period detail and even cleaner divisions between the good-hearted plebs and conniving swells. But he also elicits open, nuanced performances from his cast (including the great Luke Askew) and achieves a charged stillness that nicely conveys the self-combative isolation of athletic endeavors. That said, the CGI-enhanced links sequences are a jarring distraction, and the movie’s overly detailed approach couldn’t be more exhausting: Ouimet versus Vardon probably was the greatest golf game ever played, and Paxton and Frost do it justice, but I wouldn’t sit through another simulated hole of it for Tiger Woods’s salary.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 27, 2005