A baseball legend almost finished with his distinguished career at the age of forty has one last chance to prove who he is, what he is capable of, and win the heart of the woman he has loved for the past four years.
If you take a look at the career of director SAM RAIMI, For the Love of the Game is the film that pops out because it doesn't match with the rest of his films. And that's probably why it stands the test of time, more than other baseball movies or romance movies for that matter. There's an edge to the standard story and even though you kind of know how the film is going to end, you keep getting curve balls in the plot (pardon the baseball pun) and you're left wondering what's going to happen.
To gear up for the 2011 baseball season, I popped this film into my VCR (no DVD copies available) and watched my first viewing of the film since it came out in 1999. And I was shocked how much I liked it. The film works and here are my top 3 reasons why:
1) VIN SCULLY. l'll assume that no non-baseball fan knows who this guy is. When someone asks me who is the best storyteller in Hollywood, I always say Vin Scully. Usually I get a strange look because they don't know who he is. Then I explain that Scully lives in Hollywood and is the play by play man for the Los Angeles Dodgers. And he's been doing it since they were the Brooklyn Dodgers in the mid-1950s. Scully is the ultimate storyteller as he makes every game he calls a poetic experience.
So Raimi and/or the studios hired this guy to call the fiction game in this movie. Scully's play by play adds emotional subtext to the love story that is also going on while the game is being played. It's so much like a real Vin Scully game, I wonder if he was the one who wrote his own dialogue of the film. I love to hear that story some day because many times whenever Hollywood hires real life broadcaster for fictional reports in the film, they let them improvise the scenes during filming to keep it realistic. The problem here is that Scully is like the 3rd lead of the film and probably has the most dialogue in the movie if you add them up.
2) The LOVE STORY. I was listening to an ESPN Bill Simmons PODCAST the other day as he was talking to writer/director RON SHELTON about baseball movies. Simmons (in 2010 was the most read columnist on the internet) said that FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME was an excellent movie if you just cut out all the Kelly Preston love story scenes. I wonder what film Simmons was watching because these are the scenes that make the film. Preston's character is a real woman. The kind you don't see in studio films, but do see in the real world all the time. She's sexy but insecure about her sexuality. She's smart but never got the best out of her smarts. She's brave but very scared of life. And she's the best thing to ever happen to baseball player Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner), but of course he doesn't really realize that.
The love story in this film is the truest from of romance storytelling that I've come across in a long time. These are two characters who have achieved in life and can handle being alone. But when they're together, they are that much better. It's hard for these two people to understand that perhaps life with each other is better than life alone. When you reach a certain age, you get comfortable or even jaded by who you are. It's hard to be vulnerable with others because you're not used to it. And that's what this film is all about. If you're over 30 and still single, this is the film for you. But the irony is that if you're over 30 and single, then that last thing you probably want to watch is a romantic movie. Which is probably why this film didn't do as well commercially as it perhaps should of. 3) The role of a PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE. This is Kevin Costner's trilogy baseball film. In BULL DURHAM he played the ultimate journeyman. The guy good enough to play in the minor leagues, but not good enough to play in the pros. In FIELD OF DREAMS he played the ultimate baseball fan. The guy who risked everything to bring back dead ballplayers who got burned by the game. In FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME, he plays the ultimate professional athlete. The future hall of famer who has given it his all and has achieved stardom because of it.
In the film Kelly Preston's characters asks him if he's ever had his heart broken. He says he has....when his team lost the 1987 pennant. Preston then understands who this guy is. His #1 priority is baseball and everything else comes a distant second. Costner's character is a narcissistic person like many professional athletes. Ever meet or get to know a top flight athlete? If you have you'll understand that these people are all about themselves. And I'm not saying that in a negative way. In order for a LeBron James or Derek Jeter to be a great player, they must think about their sport 365 days a year in ever hour of the day. And because most professionals have been treated differently by others because they are a great player, then they are not used to other people being confrontational towards them or even honest. So when the going gets tough in their sport, they achieve greatness. But when the going gets tough in the real world, they usually fail miserably because they aren't used to it.
Billy Chapel is a good guy but he's an obsessed guy. He loves Preston's character, but he can't let go of baseball. So therefore the relationship can't work. It's the same way with professional actors too. Which is why most of these marriages end up in divorce. They can't work when someone is in love with two things at the same time.
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME is about Billy Chapel learning to grow up while he's pitching a perfect game at Yankee Stadium. This is a very mature film that's also very conventional too. The film works and I hope more people see it.