Re-Watchterpiece Theater: For Love of the Game (1999)

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.

lovegame

A gaudy uniform stripe but a nifty nod to realism

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 Re-Watch
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.

for_love_of_the_game

Trust me, this form looks right.

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.

MR

It’s hard to find good screen caps from this movie, so instead here’s a cowboy monkey riding a dog.

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!


13 Comments

Filed under Movies, Re-Watchterpiece Theater

13 responses to “Re-Watchterpiece Theater: For Love of the Game (1999)

  1. Dude, reading this review makes me say that you are going to love reading, ‘Bottom of the 33rd’

  2. Rick

    I must admit that this is my favorite baseball movie. Anything with Vin Scully in it has to be great.

    • There will come a day when he retires or worse yet, passes on. And it’s going to be a sad day for every baseball fan everywhere.

      He’s the last of the old guard. Harwell, Harry Caray, Mel Allen, St. Louis’ own Jack Buck… It always makes me happy to hear Scully.

  3. The guy who was babysat by the sister of the guy who played Nuclear Man in Superman IV

    This actually came on TV a few weeks ago. I always thought that Kevin Costner was a little old to even be playing an over-the-hill end of his career pitcher. I just looked it up and he was only 44 at the time. That’s within an acceptable margin of error on the age. I thought he was 50 or so. It also gave you various examples of Yankee fans–the asshole in the airport bar and the fatass blue collar New Yawker. I agree that they didn’t do anything stupid like have him pitching 103 mph. It actually looked like he was throwing in the low 80s with a lot of breaking pitches, which is reasonable for a pictcher who has been in the Majors for 20 years.

  4. I think it’s fair game to nitpick any movie about baseball, especially if one strives to be as accurate as this one seemingly does. Little things like what you mentioned would bug me as well.

    I haven’t watched this one myself, but I have always wanted to since it features the Tigers and those awesome old school uniforms. Plus I’m always up for Yankee bashing.

    • For all the nitpicks I had, I have to say- it does so much right (as a baseball movie). It’s not like, say, The Scout, which was insanity.

      I’d probably put For Love of the Game just on the outside looking in of “must-see baseball movies” (for hardcore baseball nerds), sort of in that class with Bang the Drum Slowly.

  5. Ohh man a fellow baseball nerd i can talk about this with. The majority of baseball movies i have seen the actors in the movie throw like a 2 year old which drives me nuts, especially one of my all time favorite shows “Eastbound and Down”, which makes it funnier to me. A baseball player knows “tips to the hips then to the sky” thats how you know if somebody is a baseball player. A great movie that almost lost me because of being a baseball nerd was “Fear Strikes Out”, Anthony Perkins didn’t really look like he knew what he was doing but his off the field acting and Karl Malden saved the picture. Another topic is best baseball swings by an actor. Right off the top of my head i would say Robert Redford had Ted Williams swing down perfectly in “The Natural”, Costner knows what he is doing. Umm Berenger and Dennis Haysbert looked like ballplayers in the Major League movies. You got any others? And i agree with you, no chance one guy saves a perfect game 3 times! Keep up the great writing and GO CARDS!

    • Redford was great- you’re dead right. And Costner works so well in these things precisely because he actually played (no further than HS but at least he played that far).

      Charlie Sheen… no lie, the reason Sheen got roles in Eight Men Out and Major League is because the dude actually threw 80 mph or something. When I worked in minor league baseball, we tried to sign the guy to a 10 day contract as a publicity stunt, but also knowing he wouldn’t totally embarrass himself. It was moot anyway because he didn’t want any part of it.

      • I love it! I have seen YouTube videos of Sheen hitting it out of the park mid meltdown. He’s a switch hitter I believe. Didn’t Billy Bob Thorton play some pro ball? Anyways, I was having a conversation with my high school Spanish teacher recently, who I didn’t learn a lick of Spanish from because I distracted him with baseball trivia and music trivia, in this recent conversation we were both blown away by the lack of a Roberto Clemente biopic. He is my all time favorite baseball player and was truly a hero off and on the field. Somebody needs to make it and I don’t want it to be a Hollywood picture. My ideal Clemente film would be a Sugar style approach. Would love to hear your thoughts.

        • I’d love to see a Clemente movie. I’m not even sure I care how it’s done, although the gravity of his life and charity make me think it’d work best in some sort of gritty realist fashion.

          The PBS American Experience has an episode about him that’s amazing. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. At one point, you could get it on Netflix. My only gripe was that it was only 50 minutes long.

  6. Pingback: With A Little Help From Our Friends. Link roundup. | Movie Mezzanine

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