“For Love of the Game”
Starring: Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston, John C. Reilly
Directed by Sam Raimi
2 hours, 18 minutes
Rated PG13
Universal Studios 1999

[MAY 1, 2000]  All the other reviews that I read about the third movie in Costner’s baseball trilogy tell a story of woe, claiming that this movie is flawed.  They apparently quote Costner, saying that the movie was ruined in the editing room.  They point to the flat, detracting role Kelly Preston played as Jane Aubrey, Billy Chapel’s girlfriend.  They rant about the distracting subplot, where Jane’s teen-age daughter (Jena Malone) runs away.  They rail against the length of the film, saying that at least 20 minutes of the finished film should have ended up on the editing room floor.  But for my contribution to the critical fray, I want to report that I thought it was a magical movie.

Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner) is an aging pitcher for the Tigers, a first-rate baseball team.  But the game is changing, the team has been sold, and Chapel receives the news that he has been traded.  Big corporations now own the teams. In the main story of this movie, Billy Chapel sets out to pitch the perfect game.



From beginning to end you, the viewer, understand that baseball has been Chapel’s entire life.  It has filled him to the extent that he has not made any plans for anything else.  Relationships have been tied to what city tonight’s game is in (a girl in every port).  Possessions are few and unimportant.  Memories all have their close ties to the game.  Just as the game is about to fade into the background, the one relationship Chapel thinks worthy of going into extra innings falls apart.

One might say that the magic in this film comes from the portrayal of Chapel’s perfect game (which opens the movie and closes the movie).  But baseball is just a subplot to this movie.  One might say that the magic in this film comes from the portrayal of Chapel’s need for a satisfying relationship and his pursuit of the one woman who is capable of fulfilling him.  But romance is just a subplot to this movie.  I think the magic in this film comes from the portrayal of Chapel himself.  On that pitcher’s mound stood a man who was every man.  When he pitched, I was there on the mound with him.  When he ached, I ached too.  When he had to make a decision, I too considered the choices.

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“For Love of the Game” may not be Costner’s greatest movie, but I believe it is the best role Costner has ever played.  Costner does actually pitch and catch in this film, and this contributes to the veracity of the role.  Costner delivers his lines perfectly throughout the movie, and is especially convincing as he audibly gives direction to himself on the mound, speaking directly to the “mechanism.”  The tour de force of this movie is its portrayal of the basic struggles: man-against-man, man-against-nature and man-against-himself.

Flawed or not, I was so in tune with Billy Chapel in this movie that I failed to notice.  “For Love of the Game” is a magical movie.  I recommend it even for those who don’t appreciate baseball, and give it 3 stars (out of five).




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