Our review of For Love Of The Game (HD DVD), published October 18th, 2007, is also available.
The Perfect Game.
Kevin Costner has been Hollywood's whipping boy on more than one occasion of late, especially after the high costs and dismal returns of Waterworld and The Postman, but undeniably he has done well with the baseball movies Field of Dreams and Bull Durham. For Love of the Game is a film that tries to capitalize on Costner's strengths of athleticism and laconic good looks. Director Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, A Simple Plan) and Universal have also capitalized on Costner and deftly crafted what may be the perfect date movie; a love story that is also a tale of baseball. To use a baseball metaphor, this film is what I'd call a solid drive to left; a sure single and perhaps able to be stretched to a double. Despite having read several bad reviews, I enjoyed this film. As a guy, it's not surprising that I enjoyed the baseball part of the film more, but even the love story worked for me. Universal has also done what is becoming their usual excellent work with the disc, especially for a non-Collectors Edition. As the baseball season is beginning right now, this is the perfect time for this fine release on DVD.
There were a lot of things I liked about this movie. Kevin Costner was well within his element as an aging pitcher having to come to some real decisions about his life and career. Kelly Preston (Jerry Maguire, Holy Man, Jack Frost) pulls her weight in the romantic and emotional side of the tale, in fact carries it. The supporting cast was strong; especially John C. Reilly (Magnolia, The Thin Red Line, Boogie Nights) as the friend and catcher and Jena Malone (Contact, Stepmom) as Preston's teenage daughter, but extending down to the real baseball players and umpires used for all the scenes on the diamond. Sam Raimi's direction was excellent and the photography, particularly during the baseball scenes were accurate and very believable, making you feel like this really is a game in front of over 50,000 fans. I also liked that the film avoided some obvious and easily exploited clichßs such as the championship game that everything rides on. In fact, the one game that this movie covers in depth is the end of a disappointing season where the best the team can do is be a spoiler in keeping the other team out of the running. From this seemingly ho-hum game Costner's character Billy Chapel looks at the end of his career and the breakup from a stormy relationship and ironically pitches the best game of his life.
I particularly liked the old-school look at baseball that the movie takes. Though it mentions the changes in the game (for the worse) the film looks more to what made baseball great: the purity of the sport, teamwork, friendships, rivalries, competition, and as the title aptly suggests, the love of the game. It made me nostalgic for times that hopefully are not gone forever.
This is ultimately the story of a man who is far better at baseball than relationships. The story begins poorly for Billy Chapel; he has just found out that the team he has spent his whole career with (the Detroit Tigers) has been sold and the new owners want him to either retire or be traded. After a 19-year career that has made him a sure Hall of Fame candidate, the 40-year-old pitcher is suffering the ravages of time and the end would have been in sight anyway. To make matters worse, his girlfriend has just broken up with him that morning and intends to move to London. This is the setting for the game that may well be Chapel's last.
Some of the best parts of the movie come next as you see the inner workings of a pitcher in the big leagues; how to work the hitters while ignoring the extreme noise and distractions from the stands. I really liked how he was able to "clear the mechanism" and the jeers of the crowd (he was the visiting pitcher against the Yankees) would fall to silence in his own mind. The other main thrust of the film happens in flashback; both on and off the mound Costner looks back on how he met Jane Aubrey (Preston), remembers the tempestuous flare-ups and passions of their five year relationship, and how his career was nearly ended from an injury to his pitching hand. One of the more emotional moments and biggest problems with the love affair comes from that injury as Chapel tells his girlfriend to call his trainer, who "is the most important person to me right now." It seems as if he loves the game so much he can't quite find room to give her the same.
The aging pitcher is so pre-occupied with all that has happened and looking back on the past that unbeknownst to him he is pitching perfectly. He doesn't even realize that he may have an instant ticket into the Hall of Fame and is making history. But can he keep it up for 9 whole innings at his age and condition? What happens to the relationship? Despite the fact that you may draw conclusions early I thought Raimi did a great job in keeping the suspense and tension high.
Universal again comes through with a beautiful 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. The bright, vivid colors are crisp without a hint of bleeding or blooming. Detail is sharp without edge enhancement issues, and the overall look if very film-like, natural, and three-dimensional. Blacks and flesh tones were dead on, and only a slight bit of artifacting that you'd have to look hard to find keep it from being reference quality. There were few film defects, mostly in what looks like stock footage, where there is a bit of dirt on the print. None of this is very noticeable if you are not specifically looking for it.
The soundtrack was just as good as the excellent video. Surprising for a dramatic film, the surrounds are used both aggressively and subtly depending on the situation. Everything from birds chirping to the stadium crowds are done well. The front soundstage is wide enough, highly detailed, with clear dialogue. I did find that the center channel was perhaps a bit too low and boosted it a few decibels from my system's calibrated state. This was more personal preference rather than have the other sounds become too much when louder sounds kicked in.
A very nice collection of extras accompanies the fine transfer and sound. The best of the lot is the 20-minute behind the scenes feature "Spotlight on Location." Interviews with the cast and behind the camera viewpoint make this better than mere marketing fluff. 20 more minutes of deleted scenes are also included, but few of them seemed as if they would add anything to the film. A text history of the 18 perfect games ever pitched in major league baseball comes next, and some of that information will help you in the "On the Mound" trivia game that follows. Answer all 12 questions right without "striking out" and you are treated to a 1931 short film called "Slide Baby Slide" starring Babe Ruth. Very nice, though a bit tedious to win the game to get to it. Title 6 on the disc should take you straight to the prize. The theatrical trailer and a bonus trailer for The Klumps (the upcoming sequel to The Nutty Professor), production notes, cast and crew info, and DVD-ROM features finish out the bonus features. The DVD-ROM content has extra production notes and still picture gallery. Not bad for a disc that doesn't claim to be a Collectors Edition.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My biggest complaint with the film is that it lasts a bit too long, at 138 minutes. Sometimes a romantic flashback seems to take too long just to get the whole accompanying song in. A few places seemed to drag on and could have been chopped without losing anything important. Being a guy, of course all those places were in the love story part of the film. Still, while somewhat soppily sentimental, the love story worked and showed real people rather than two stars acting. Some of the dialogue could have been better as well, but not often.
This is a very good date movie. So if you have a wife or significant other, this is a good purchase or rental for an evening together. If you're a guy, use it to justify another viewing of The Matrix later. Unlike pure "chick flicks" this one is very watchable for men too. I think the movie stands up well even for me, since I too love the game of baseball. Only if you truly hate Kevin Costner should you stay away; as I think once you start the film with that preconception it will color your enjoyment. In any case, the disc quality is superb and well worth a purchase.
Kevin Costner is released and the court hopes not to see another Waterworld on the horizon, but rather better films like this. Universal and the rest of the cast are completely acquitted. Case dismissed.
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• Spotlight on Location Feature
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