After 19 years in the big leagues, 40 year old Billy Chapel has trudged to the mound for over 4000 innings. But tonight, he's pitching against time, he's pitching against the future, against age, against ending. Tonight, he will make the fateful walk to the loneliest spot in the world, the pitching mound at Yankee Stadium, to push the sun back into the sky and give us one more day of summer.
After a series of disappointing turns at bat in "Waterworld", "The Postman", and "Message in a Bottle", Kevin Costner is back in a baseball uniform playing the sort of role that has made him a household name in "Field of Dreams" and "Bull Durham". "For Love of the Game" is the latest valentine for America's favorite pastime, and the timing couldn't be better, with the baseball season currently in full swing. Though baseball fans will probably salivate at the stunning cinematography that captures the energy and grace of the sport, it is the film's script (based on the Michael Shaara novel of the same name) that will hit a home run for audiences, even for those who don't understand the game.
The film opens with the Detroit Tigers arriving in New York City to face off against the Yankees. Billy Chapel (Costner), a nineteen-year veteran who has spent his entire career playing for the Tigers, is the team's star pitcher, and even though it is the final game of the team's lackluster season, it is just another game that is expected to be uneventful. All that changes, however, when Billy is suddenly dealt a double-whammy of life-changing decisions. First, longtime Tigers' owner Gary Wheeler (Brian Cox of "The Corruptor") has decided to sell the team to a corporate consortium, and the first move of the new owners would be to trade Billy to the San Francisco Giants, something that would convince Billy to hang up his glove. Second, and ultimately more profound in its impact, Billy's longtime girlfriend Jane Aubrey (Kelly Preston of "Holy Man") announces that she is going to London, England for a new job, finally convinced that Billy has never actually 'needed her', having found solace in the game of baseball instead.
The rest of the film is then framed by Billy's ruminations on the mound as he throws each pitch. Using a series of flashbacks, Billy reflects on the past five years of his life, picking through both the beautiful and the ugly in his on-again/off-again relationship with Jane. But as the innings drag on, it becomes apparent that the Tigers' star pitcher is in 'the zone', as Billy strikes out one Yankee batter after another, possibly making this the team's finest hour of the season. However, Billy's thoughts are elsewhere, in what may very well be the final game of his career, juggling in his head his passion for the sport, his uncertain future, and the trail of regrets he has left in his relationship with Jane.
Little boys buy cards with your picture on them!
They buy those for the gum
To a certain degree, "For Love of the Game" shares some semblance to "Notting Hill", in which the ambiguities, frictions, and awkward moments of adult relationships are examined and amplified via the unlikely pairing of a normal person with a celebrity, and in this latest offering, with hilarious results. However, this latest film goes one step further by universalizing its theme and striking a chord with a wider audience-- the precarious balance between career and life that Billy faces is no different than the choices many of us face. The repercussions of Billy putting the game of baseball above all else are no different than those experienced by the average working class stiff who misguidedly allows the moments of their lives to slip by unnoticed.
So, are you my mom's boyfriend?
I'm not sure.
But you've slept with her.
As the film's central character, Costner brings out the drive, charm, and blind self-assurance of Billy Chapel in an earnest yet uneven performance. There were some scenes in which it seemed that Costner was not in his element, particularly in a few of the flashback sequences, and unfortunately, the ending. However, Preston more than makes up for Costner's shortfalls, delivering an impressive performance as Jane, displaying the full range of emotions that her character is subjected to during the sometimes tumultuous relationship. Though the chemistry between Costner and Preston could have used some tweaking, their combined efforts bring an appropriate level of charm to their relationship, giving audiences the much-needed emotional anchor for the story. Also on hand are some scene-stealing performances by Jena Malone ("Stepmom"), who plays Jane's teenage daughter, and John C. Reilly ("The Thin Red Line"), who plays Billy's back catcher and confidant Gus Sinski.
However, the most interesting aspect of "For Love of the Game" takes place behind the camera, in the director's chair. Cult cinematic icon Sam Raimi has developed quite a following with his unique blend of camp, action, and horror. From his breakthrough "Evil Dead" trilogy to "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena: The Warrior Princess", Raimi has always used a unique sense of humor, action choreography, and hyperbolic cinematography to create both dynamic and absurd action films. However, in recent years, Raimi has attempted to expand his range, which he did exceptionally well while directing last year's "A Simple Plan". With "For Love of the Game", Raimi expands his range once again, bringing some of his trademark visual flourishes to bring baseball to life on the big screen. Though Raimi purists will probably balk at the director being associated with such a mainstream effort, this is a film that puts Raimi's talent and technical expertise to good use.
Though "For Love of the Game" is plagued with a few weak spots, including a somewhat muted ending, overall, this is a film that has a little something for everyone-- the baseball fan, the moviegoer in search of an entertaining diversion, and the celluloid aficionado in search of an unconventionally-crafted film. I must admit that I'm not a big fan of baseball, but just as how "Shakespeare in Love" made the Bard's work more accessible to the masses, "For Love of the Game" just might bring about a newfound appreciation for America's favorite pastime.