A review of “The Greatest Game Ever Played” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG for intense situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

 

 

Teen charmer Shia LaBeouf gives a winning performance in this wholesome family film with loads of mainstream appeal.

Early 20th century Massachusetts is a place where the rich are getting richer and the poor know their place. Young Francis Ouimet (LaBeouf) catches a local demonstration by British golf champion Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) and takes an unanticipated shine to the game, much to his father’s dismay. Golf is a wealthy man’s sport and Francis’ proud but struggling family can’t afford to spend time or money on fruitless pursuits.

Dad may disapprove but mom believes in dreams. Francis continues to practice his game after lights out and between caddying engagements at the local links while mom runs family interference. 

Stepping out of his social bounds isn’t enough for Francis who also falls for the fetching sister (Peyton List as Sara Wallis) of an upper-crust athlete. Sara returns his feelings which embolden him to go for the gold.

Francis’ fantasies come to fruition on the greens of the 1913 U.S. Open. The capable wunderkind is talented and cocky, forgetting his place but delightfully sure of himself. Onward and upward as Francis grabs the brass ring and finds himself center stage at the country’s most prestigious sporting event, going head-to-head with his childhood hero.

Rarely is such fresh-faced family entertainment so fraught with style and dramatic tension. “Game” keeps it squeaky clean while gathering a number of core elements into a tidy package; from flying CGI-enhanced golf balls to the fundamental nature of class distinction.

Director Bill Paxton lays it on thick but maintains the dignity of the real life events on which the story is based. As a nod to the parent company Paxton contemporizes and Disney-izes with broad, patent strokes.  

Comic relief arrives in the form of Francis’ pint-sized caddy (Josh Flitter as Eddie Lowery), a wisecracking ten-year old who has every reason to believe his golfer will take home the cup. Baby-faced LaBeouf is a refreshing combination of determination and geniality, helping make “Game” fun and feel-good family fare.