September 19, 1999 -- Kevin Costner is rapidly becoming the designated baseball film actor and director. Nobody else is specializing in making such good, and whimsical, baseball movies as Costner does. With "Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams," already on the scoreboard, Costner's latest rawhide epic is "For Love of the Game."
Costner plays Billy Chapel, a great pitcher in his declining years who doesn't want to give up the game, but he's at a crossroads in his life. His strained relationship with his girlfriend, Jane Aubrey (Kelly Preston) is on his mind as much as the game at hand, and the fact that he may be traded to another team requires a decision in the middle of the game.
Chapel's career as a baseball player is a thinly veiled metaphor for Costner's career as a movie star. His seemingly foolhardy projects "Dances With Wolves" and "Field of Dreams" turned out to chances well worth taking, while his colossal flops "Waterworld" and "The Postman" were projects he should have avoided. But he defends all of his decisions. You can practically hear him singing "I Did it My Way."
I recently watched "The Fountainhead" and Billy Chapel's character is very similar to the heroic architect played by Gary Cooper in that Ayn Rand story. He simply won't put up with anyone who tries to get him to quit the game he loves. He turns his back on them and goes his own way, no matter what the cost. Chapel sums it up by asking, "Haven't you ever loved anything that much?" If you haven't, then you aren't going to get this movie.
Yet the film also demonstrates how baseball is uniquely a combination of an individual game and a team game. When Chapel falters, his catcher Gus Osinski (John C. Reilly) tells him that the rest of the team will pick him up, but unless you follow baseball you may not understand just how that works. One thing that puzzled me is a remark made by Chapel early in the film that the game wasn't important for the Tigers, the team Chapel plays for, but it is important to Boston. The trouble is, they weren't playing Boston, they were playing the Yankees. Maybe Boston was in a pennant race with the Yankees as they are this year. The film did a nice job of showing what jerks some Yankee fans are, however. The film also has a great soundtrack, including Bob Seeger's classic, "Against the Wind."
The film also demonstrates how baseball has a way of bonding fathers and sons. The scenes of Chapel learning to pitch from his father reminded me of something Wade Boggs said when he recently passed another milestone in his great career as a hitter. Boggs said it was his father who made him a great hitter and that he had not changed his batting stance since little league.
This is a highly complex film, with multiple flashbacks to different points in Chapel's life, but director Sam Raimi ("A Simple Plan") manages to hold it all together, showing us that it all comes down to just one decision. Chapel must decide between his baseball career and the woman he loves. All the nuances of that choice are fully explored in this movie. It rates a B.
Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games 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.