Re-Watchterpiece Theater is a series that explores the organic way that attitudes about films change after you watch them a second time, a third time, or more, further down the line than the original viewing.
There’s been an amusing and completely accidental quirk that has developed through the years of Re-Watchterpiece Theater. Lots of films and genres have received the Re-Watchterpiece Theater treatment. But today marks the fourth- FOURTH!- Kevin Costner film in the spotlight, joining JFK, Waterworld, and A Perfect World. I guarantee no other actor has appeared that much. Most likely, I’m trying to make sense of how and why Kevin Costner was a star. Today’s re-watchterpiece choice is one of his baseball films- For Love of the Game (1999). Was it any better or worse the second time?
The First Viewing
My first viewing of For Love of the Game came in a very conflicted movie era for yours truly. On one hand, 1998-2002 were the dark ages of cinema for me. My job and my lack of money prevented me from seeing that many movies for four or five years. On the other hand, my job was in professional baseball. I was so immersed in the game that there was no way I’d avoid seeing a movie about it.
It’s often the stupidest little thing that will make you stand up and take notice about a movie. For me in 1999, it was the fact that director Sam Raimi used the Detroit Tigers’ actual uniforms of the era in his various flashbacks. At one point, we see them during those odd years that they had big dumb thick stripes down the sides of their uniform. Another time a few years later, the stripes are more subdued but the uniform is still gaudy. And the Tigers uniform worn while most of the action took place was spot-on.
And it just felt like a baseball movie. It respected the game. There was no nonsense like radar guns showing 103 mph; no pitchers throwing 27-strikeout perfect games; and no homeruns crashing into exploding lights. It was fictional, obviously, but it didn’t feel like it. And with baseball movies, that’s really all I ask. Don’t make up things that could never possibly happen on a baseball diamond. Don’t disrespect the game, because the actual history is far too cool to go inventing imaginary and wildly unrealistic things.
I also have a vague memory that it was as much a love story as anything else. I sure as hell didn’t know who had directed the film. Ultimately, I came in around 3.5 stars out of 5, seeing it as a satisfactory baseball film that wasn’t quite as perfect as its protagonist.
The second viewing was completely inspired by the baseball movie timeline I created a few weeks back. That, and more importantly, I had since learned that Sam Raimi of all people had directed it. The guy who made a bunch of Spider-Man movies and campy/gory movies about demonic possession had made a baseball movie. That blew my mind.
This time around, I did notice a few nitpicky things regarding the action on the field. And before I proceed, understand that these really are nitpicks. If you’re not a baseball fan, you won’t give a damn and I don’t blame you. For instance, the second baseman saves Billy Chapel’s bacon at least three times. Mickey Hart, the center fielder, saves him once. Chapel even saves his own perfect game with a quick snag of a line drive up the middle. Admittedly, almost every perfect game needs at least one defensive gem to keep it intact. But five is a stretch, particularly with three of them coming from one player.
There’s also a scene in either the 4th or 7th inning in which the opponent’s monster MVP candidate- a .300 hitter with 39 homeruns- comes to the plate… and bunts. It wasn’t even a sacrifice bunt. No runners reached all game, of course. He was bunting for a base hit. There’s no way in hell a .300 hitter with 39 bombs would bunt for a base hit. None at all. And if he did, his manager would chew his ass.
I can’t stress enough- I’m being overly critical and I know it. It’s one of the goofy little rights I reserve as a baseball nerd. And most importantly, I was very pleased to find that I still came to the same conclusion as the first time. It felt just like baseball. Most of the players even look like natural baseball players, with only a few exceptions in the Yankee lineup. Nitpicks or not, the people who made this film stayed true to the game and I applaud it. Adding grainy, TV footage into the action- much like The Fighter would several years later- was a brilliant touch.
The film itself was actually a little more flawed than I remembered. A great deal of the dialogue is right on the nose. Early in the film, Jane chides Billy for being so “perfect” for the game of baseball. And I’m pretty sure the word “perfect” is used at least two other times in a way that goes well beyond foreshadowing for Chapel’s perfect game. When Billy and Gus sit in the dugout and reminisce about the time the center fielder, Mickey Hart, took a flyball off his noggin for a homerun, there isn’t a shred of doubt from that point forward that Hart will save Billy’s perfect game in some way. It’s ultimately a fine film, a great concept, and even a solid baseball film, but it suffers from clumsy dialogue.
That’s ultimately why I’m tempted to downgrade it from 3.5 to 3 stars. It’s not the nitpicky baseball stuff. A film shouldn’t suffer from my neuroses and passion for the topic. It’s for the clumsiness of the script. But one thing saves it from such a fate. It’s actually pretty merciless about making fun of Yankee fans. And that warms my heart. Half star restored!