returns to baseball
for the third time,
but with less success
|"For Love of the Game"
Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla
(Click on the image to see a larger version and credit.)
Kevin Costner does baseball movies like no other actor in history. Sure, "Pride of the Yankees" and "Fear Strikes Out" are arguably better movies than "Field of Dreams" and "Bull Durham" (and you'd get a pretty loud argument from some quarters) but consistently, no other actor has better understood the mystical appeal of the Grand Old Game, nor been any abler at understanding this country's connection with it.
For my part, I'm more of a hockey fan these days, but give me a hot dog, a beer and a baseball game on a summer's day, and suddenly I'm waxing poetic as well as nostalgic. I couldn't tell you why I love the game ... only that I do. Somehow, I think Costner is in the same boat.
In this, his third movie that has baseball at its core, Costner plays Billy Chapel, a once-dominant pitcher (think Roger Clemens) who is in the twilight of his career, described as someone with a reservation for the hall of fame, who has won every award a pitcher can win, someone who has won the adulation of the fans -- and of women. You'd think he has it all.
Yet he has been dealt a double blow. His beloved Detroit Tigers, for whom he has excelled for 19 years, are on the verge of being sold to a corporate buyer. The first item on the corporate agenda is to trade the aging pitcher who still has some name value while they can still get something decent for him ... and at less than his current salary.
The second item is that his girlfriend, Jane (Kelly Preston) has accepted a job in London and has skipped a hotel rendezvous because she couldn't figure out a way to tell him that their relationship is over.
All of this, and the New York Yankees too. See, the Yankees are on the verge of clinching another pennant and only the lowly Tigers, suffering through a mediocre season (with Chapel heading up the list of less-than-stellar performances) stand in their way.
Chapel throws as hard as his aching arm will allow. For one shining evening, he is the Billy Chapel of old. Out follows out follows out. Inning after inning. And as the game progresses, Chapel is dwelling on the last five years of his life, on his relationship with Jane, on the injury that almost ended his career, and on the way a man, so admired, so confident, so great on the ballfield, could be failing so badly off of it.
As the game begins to get into the late innings, the great Billy Chapel suddenly realizes he is on verge of making baseball history - pitching a perfect game, one of the rarest occurences in baseball. 27 men up, 27 men down, no hits, no walks, no errors.
Strangely enough, with all this baseball involved, it really is a chick flick. The center of this story is not Billy Chapel's baseball career, nor is it the perfect game he is throwing. The center of "For Love of the Game" is Billy's relationship with Jane. Preston does a great job of playing Jane as a strong woman who has been damaged by bad choices, but who has survived, and excelled in her own way. She has needed nobody in her whole life ... but suddenly finds herself in a relationship with a famous man. A relationship that is deepening into love.
Neither one of these people are perfect, which is what gives this movie some kick. At various times in the movie, I was shrieking the word "Bonehead!" at both of 'em, and to Costner's credit, he plays Billy as neither the mythic baseball hero ("Field of Dreams") nor the aging jock ("Bull Durham") but as a man who has been at the top of his profession for almost 20 years, who has given so much of himself to the game that he has nothing left for anyone else.
Unfortunately, that makes something of a quandry for director Sam Raimi. Is this a baseball movie, a love story or what? Wellllll ... it's both and it's neither and it winds up being sort of an amalgam, and thereby winds up satisfying not all of the needs of baseball fans or romance junkies. Da Queen gave "For Love of the Game" three hankies; a quiet little weep in the corner, but not a full-out bawling.
AT HOME OR AT A THEATER?
See cast, credit and other details about "For Love of the Game" at Internet Movie Data Base.