A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie features sustained and occasionally eruptive family tensions (father doesn't want son to play golf). Characters smoke (cigars, pipes, and cigarettes) and drink (the working class drinkers are especially rowdy in a pub scene). A couple of bystanders tease a caddy who is especially short. A budding romance between protagonists insinuates sexual interest. One golfer is haunted by images of ominous men in dark suits and tall hats, left over from a childhood encounter.
What's the story?
Based on the real-life careers of two brilliant golf champions -- British Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) and American Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf) -- THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED traces their very different childhoods. As both have working class backgrounds, they must -- on different continents -- fight class prejudice in order to play. Harry learns to caddy and play, becoming an international champion, but not allowed to be an official member of the club he represents. Similarly, young Francis (Matthew Knight) grows up on the edge of a golf course and shows a natural talent and passionate interest, but his father discourages him, insisting he learn a trade. No surprise, Francis, who works as a caddy and then as a clerk in a sports gear store, becomes so good at golf that he eventually enters the 1913 U.S. Open as an amateur. Here he's competing against his idol, Harry Vardon, as well as Harry's buddy, the large-bodied, cigar-chomping Ted Ray (Stephen Marcus).
Is it any good?
Inspiring in the most predictable sports-movie ways, The Greatest Game Ever Played also shows golf's class problems. While the players battle it out, the game is reimagined by director Bill Paxton and cinematographer Shane Hurlbut as a series of grand, sweeping shots, sometimes taking the ball's point of view and at others, the subjective states of the players (enhanced by CGI).
Because he plays so stunningly well, Francis becomes something of a celebrity, annoying and eventually gratifying his stubborn father (his mother, Mary [Marnie McPhail], is supportive throughout, but quieted by her husband's outrage). But for all its interest in the class and gender issues of the day, the movie is most insistently focused on Francis' perseverance and passion. His trajectory is standard (see any recent sports movie, from Miracle to Remember the Titans), but it is also exciting and heartening, especially for younger viewers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the conflict between father and son: how does Francis' desire to play golf threaten his father's pride and sense of identity? What role does Francis' mother play in the men's disagreement? Are there still class distinctions in professional sports today?
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