Wednesday, June 10, 2015

For Love of the Game

Last year, I finally got around to watching my DVD and blogging about the classic Kevin Costner baseball film of 1989, Field of Dreams. Currently, MLB is a third into the 2015 season, and the Twins are doing surprisingly better than anyone anticipated this season under new manager, hall-of-famer and my all-time favorite ball player, Paul Molitor. That said, it gives me sufficient enough reason to bust out the classic Kevin Costner baseball film that hit a decade later in 1999, For Love of the Game (trailer). Actually, I watched it for the first time from a Netflix disc rental a year or two ago and shortly thereafter ordered a copy online.

Kevin Costner knows no bounds for baseball movies as For Love of the Game marked his third hardball film behind Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. Costner plays Billy Chapel, 18 year veteran of the Detroit Tigers. The film has a tough opening for Chapel, where he is bumped ahead in rotation to play in the final game of their losing season at legendary Yankees Stadium. On the morning of the game, team owner Gary Wheeler (Brian Cox) informs Chapel he sold the Tigers and the new owners want to trade Chapel to the Giants, but Wheeler suggests to stick it to the new owners by retiring instead. Finally, off-and-on again girlfriend Jane (Kelly Preston) stood him up on a date the night before and informs Billy that same morning she is moving to London that very night.

Add it all up and Chapel goes into the last game of the season understandably pissed off. Tigers manager Frank (JK Simmons) tries to substitute a better batting catcher, but Chapel demands that longtime friend Gus (John C. Reilly) catches or else he does not pitch. Director Sam Raimi (yes, of Evil Dead and Spider-Man fame) did a superb job with the casting and cinematography for this film. Nearly all cast members from top to bottom supporting players seem perfectly casted. The atmosphere Raimi sets up at the ballpark going into the first pitch perfectly captures why I love going to baseball games and that magical essence that simply consumes you as you become part of America’s pastime.

The baseball game Chapel is pitching is only half the story however. Shortly after the baseball game starts a half hour in, the game bounces back to Jane, who cannot escape watching Chapel pitch from hearing it in a taxi to being forced to watch it as she endures plane delays. For Love of the Game then proceeds in a different storytelling direction, by having random flashbacks to Billy & Jane’s life in their five year relationship from when they first met, to their many ups and downs over the years. Flashbacks are an easy storytelling device, but the way Raimi incorporates them here is incredibly effective as the film bounces transitions from an inning of the game, and then to another flashback throughout all nine innings of play.

Most of the flashbacks are well done, but there are a couple clunkers. The film dwells a little too much on Jane not wanting to become a ‘ball player groupie’ before finally committing to Chapel….as his exclusive girlfriend whenever the Tigers are in town playing the Yankees. For a long time the film never really establishes if Chapel is chasing after Jane as his exclusive girlfriend, for all I know he is just trying to secure a lady friend in New York and has others all across the country for the other teams he plays. That gripe aside, most of the flashbacks are well produced and effectively tell the story of their rocky relationship.

Back on the sports side of the film, Gus gets his moment in the sun in a great sequence by making a double and eventually coming home scoring. As the innings and flashbacks cruise by, Chapel realizes he has a perfect game going into the 8th inning. Gus delivers the stereotypical-yet-powerful feel good speech to motivate Chapel to continue on and For Love of the Game has some truly great baseball sequences play out with the Tigers’ defense turning it up in a few nail-biter plays to keep Chapel’s perfecto alive.

Props again to Raimi for gradually increasing the ‘big game’ feel throughout the film to the point of where Yankees’ fans are even rooting for Chapel so they can witness history. Going into the last inning, the film’s TV announcers hype up the historic moment accordingly, and Costner is terrific with his standout moment on the mound praying for one last shutout inning. I will tip my hat to Raimi again getting me on my toes watching this film with some masterful foreshadowing setting up the final, 27th batter, because I will forever remember what happened to Galarraga five years ago on the 27th batter he faced going for his perfect game.

For Love of the Game manages to be that rare hybrid that excels at both showcasing the sport and also telling a great romance off-the-field. Neither part feels tacked on, and both sides feel like they were treated with equal attention. To also successfully pull off the feat of what it feels like to witness the rare feat of baseball’s ultimate achievement, the perfect game, is a major success for the entire cast and crew of the film. I get all worked up watching a baseball game whenever just three innings of perfect play transpire, and to witness Costner go through playing out the perfect game here does an authentic job at making me feel those irresistible goosebumps.

This movie was not a quick watch by any means given the aforementioned nature it was shot as it clocks in around two and a quarter hours, but you better believe Raimi had to make some tough cuts as there are an additional 21 minutes of deleted scenes. I got the feeling For Love of the Game originally was a soft R rating because the alternate scenes have several more expletives and a couple more suggestive scenes. There is also a 20 minute Spotlight on Location feature interviewing the cast and crew about the film, and they provide plenty of good insight and facts about the production like how Raimi tried to get as many actual ball players and umpires casted for an authentic atmosphere and how Costner was constantly iced up off camera because he was throwing hundreds of pitches a day during production. To close off the extras, there is a list of all 18 perfect games going into this film’s release in 1999. There have been a few more since, but this list just went to show you how rare and big of an accomplishment the perfect game is.

Thank you for indulging me crush on baseball throughout this review. Along with my blog a couple years ago chronicling getting back into the sport and my review of Field of Dreams last year, this seems to be a recurring yearly theme here. Obviously I am just a wee bit biased in this review, but if you have any passion for the sport of baseball, and do not mind a great romance story on top of it, then you owe it to yourself to watch For Love of the Game.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

12 Angry Men (1957)
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
Dirty Work
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Hercules: Reborn
Man of Steel
Marine 3 & 4
Mortal Kombat
The Replacements
Rocky I-VI
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Source Code
Star Trek I-XII
Take Me Home Tonight
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
Veronica Mars
The Wrestler (2008)

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