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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Greatest Game Ever Played

An exceptional golf movie

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September 2, 2014 -- I'd heard about this movie and was sort of interested in seeing it. I finally got my chance when somebody loaned me a bunch of videos found laying around and this movie was included in the lot. I watched it last night. While the story wanders around a bit and has a bit too much standard Disney Studio formula mixed in, it is not a bad film.

This based-on-fact film about legendary golfers Francis Ouimet and Harry Vardon focuses on these two very interesting characters who played a very famous match in the U.S. Open tournament a hundred years ago, in 1913. This is one of those films that compelled me to get on the internet and find out what happened to these characters right after I saw the movie, and I did, even though there is a bit of information about them as the film's credits begin to roll.

The story focuses on the similarities between these two golfers. Vardon (played by Stephen Dillane of “Spy Game”) the best golfer in the world in his prime, was born in England to a poor family in a home that was torn down to make way for a golf course. Ouimet (played by Shia LeBeouf of “Transformers”) was born to a poor family and grew up in a house across the street from a country club where he had no hope of becoming a member. He became a caddy at that same country club in Brookline, Mass. and learned to play the game. His hero was Harry Vardon, and he read the book Vardon wrote about golf.

Both Vardon and Ouimet were looked down upon by the “old money” upper-crusters who ruled society in London and Boston. Both of them fought back with their golf skills. Ouimet also faced resistance from his father, Arthur (Elias Koteas of “Let Me In”) who thinks golf is a frivolous waste of time. His mother, Mary (Marnie McPhail) is supportive, however.

He also gets support from Country Club member Ted Hastings (Justin Ashforth of “In the Bedroom”) and from the club pro, Alec Campbell (Luke Askew of “Frailty,” which is another good film, like this one, directed by Bill Paxton). There is also a very mild, Disney-type romantic element in the film. The object of Ouimet's desire is Sarah Wallis (Peyton List of “The Tomorrow People” TV series) who is from a wealthy family.

The climax of the movie is the 1913 U.S. Open, which featured an 18-hole playoff round between Ouimet, Harry Vardon and fellow high-ranking British pro, the portly and powerful Ted Ray (Stephen Marcus of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”). Before we get to that, we have to slog our way through the father-son dispute over golf and the time devoted to the wee little romance. All this seems like stuff added by the studio to a story that was strong enough to stand on its own. These additions are designed to appeal to a wider audience. Maybe they do, but they weaken the story.

One thing that does help (and this is based on fact) is the addition of a character, Eddie Lowery (Josh Flitter) as Ouimet's caddy. The relationship between golfer and caddie works better than some of the other relationships in the film, although some of the things Eddie says are modern expressions, not the way people spoke 100 years ago. The other relationships that work are between Vardon and Ray and between Ouimet, his mother, Lowery, Hastings, Campbell and Vardon. I liked the conflict between the lowly golfers and those in high society. The game itself is filmed with some imagination by Shane Hurlbut (“Terminator Salvation”). Special effects are used to allow us to view the game from impossible, but interesting, perspectives.

The game is full of suspense, twists and turns. The characters are fascinating. The locations, sets and costume designs are all first-rate. The acting us up to par. The story is handicapped to a degree by the unnecessary elements added to it, but it is basically strong enough to overcome those drawbacks. This film rates a B.

I watched the original DVD of this movie, which has some nice extras on it, including an actual TV interview with the real Francis Ouimet done in 1963, on the 50th anniversary of his famous U.S. Open appearance. There is a “making of” documentary, and another one about the people on which this film is based. Audio commentary tracks are also included. The image is good enough to look sharp and lush when upscaled to 1080p and projected onto a big screen. Whatever else you might think of Disney, the studio does put out quality videos.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2014 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)