Based on the best-selling book by Mark Foster Game tells the remarkable real-life story of Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf). He was a working-class immigrant kid who in the early 1900s turned the privileged world of golf on its ear. The story begins with Francis working as a caddie at a posh country club where he masters the game by quietly practicing on his own. His French-born father (Elias Koteas) thinks he's wasting his time and should be earning an honest wage but Francis is far too smitten with the game to give it up. Francis finally gets his big break when an amateur spot opens up at the 1913 U.S. Open. With a feisty 10-year-old caddie named Eddie (Josh Flitter) by his side egging him on Francis plays the best he ever has. He eventually finds himself facing off against the sport's undisputed champion Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) a U.S. Open winner and six-time British Open champion (a record that still stands today). Their legendary battle changes the face of the sport forever--but I wouldn't necessarily call it the greatest game ever.
Game is one of those juicy little biopics actors can really sink their teeth into. Starting with our young lead LaBeouf (Holes) is sufficiently determined as the guy playing against impossible odds. His Francis with his liquid brown eyes and winning smile is full of optimism and raw talent that propels him into the majors. And he looks pretty authentic swinging a golf club too. Still it may be time for LaBeouf to move on from the Disney family fare and do something grittier sort of like what he showed in Constantine. Dillane--who was so achingly good in The Hours as Virginia Woolf's beleaguered husband--also does a fine job as the legendary Vardon a man haunted by his own demons. In a way Game is a story about both men who have more in common than they realize. Although a top professional in the sport Vardon has to fight against the elitist golfing community's prejudices. You see Vardon grew up dirt poor on the plains of Scotland and because of his background was never permitted into any "gentleman's" clubs. The cast of colorful supporting players add to the film especially Flitter as the caustic but encouraging Eddie. He may be small but he packs a wallop. The last shot of the movie features Francis and Eddie walking off the golf course at sunset evoking the classic Casablanca ending line "This is the start of a beautiful friendship"--which apparently really happened. The real-life Eddie and Francis remained friends for the rest of their lives.
The main slice against Game is that it's about golf. Besides comedies such as Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore a serious movie about the game really isn't going to stir your soul say like football or baseball. But actor-turned-director Bill Paxton--who made his directorial debut with the creepy Frailty--takes the story and keeps it convincingly affecting. Much like Seabiscuit it's the real-life historical context that makes Game even more compelling. Paxton painstakingly details how the game was played at the turn of the century--and who was allowed to play it. The whole discriminatory arrogance surrounding the game makes the stakes even higher for our heroes. Vardon had a score to settle while Ouimet simply became the game's new hero paving the way for legendary whiz kids like Tiger Woods to step up on the green. Paxton also views Game as a Western. The final golf round between Vardon and Ouimet is the ultimate shootout á la the OK Corral in which the camera angles are inventive--a bird's eye view of the ball sailing through the air or gliding on the green into the hole. Plus he keeps the tension as taut as he can considering the less than exhilarating subject matter. Oh come on who isn't a sucker for a good sports underdog story even if it is golf?
Cold Creek Manor starts out setting the mood for an eerie thriller. Having had enough of the hustle-bustle of New York life the Tilsons-- a documentary filmmaker Cooper (Dennis Quaid) his corporate exec wife Leah (Sharon Stone) and their two kids--seek the quiet serenity of the countryside and buy a repossessed dilapidated manor with intentions of fixing it up. They also inherit the previous owner's personal things which include pornographic photos ominous press clippings and some nasty looking farming tools hanging on the wall. You'd think that would be the first clue things aren't quite right but Cooper finds the stuff fascinating and decides to make a documentary about the place--not realizing the danger which lurks around the corner. Up pops Dale Massie (Stephen Dorff) a mean-as-a-snake redneck just out of prison whose looking to come home to the house that's been in his family for generations except the house has strangers living in it. He doesn't take too kindly to that fact and nor do the rest of the townsfolk who rally around him. The volatile ex-con tries everything possible to get the Tilsons out--as well as keep them from finding out the grisly truth about what happened in the manor--but instead of getting scarier the film falls apart. Ultimately what could potentially been a real frightfest simply denigrates into another typical good guy-bad guy showdown.
Cold Creek Manor's cast do what they can with formulaic characters. Quaid hot off a career jump with last year's gems The Rookie and Far from Heaven handles Cooper with the requisite amount of citified savvy an urban hipster adjusting to country living who is saddled with protecting his family from a raging lunatic while as his wife Stone basically sleepwalks through most of the movie with phoned-in screams and scared looks. It's a shame the talented actress decided to get back into the swing of moviemaking with such a dull part (her last movie was 2000's Beautiful Joe). Dorff (feardotcom) on the other hand gets to chew his way through the film as the over-the-top Dale. There's really no question of who the villain is when Dale comes on the screen all sweaty and menacing flexing his pecs with a wild look in his eyes and Dorff plays it full-tilt with not a subtle bone in his body. Juliette Lewis makes an appearance as Dale's trailer-trash girlfriend who sticks up for him even after he gives her a bloody nose in public (why you never really know). Yet the only genuine standout worth mentioning is Kristen Stewart who did such a great job as Jodie Foster's daughter in Panic Room. Stewart plays Tilson's sullen teenage daughter Kristen able to convey to Dale with just a scowl that she knows he's trouble. The young actress could be one to look out for.
With such a promising start Cold Creek Manor could have been a real nail-biter; instead the film is rife with missed opportunities. Screenwriter Richard Jefferies and director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) choose to go the typical thriller route rather than build the suspense on the more intriguing aspects of the story namely the house and the secrets it hides. Instead Figgis first concentrates on Cooper and how he has to prove to everyone including his wife why he doesn't trust the seemingly helpful Dale. Then Figgis turns to Dale who is so obviously a psychopath it's hard to understand why anyone would buy him as a normal guy. Cold Creek is reminiscent of the 1990 thriller Pacific Heights about a couple who rents out part of their dream house to a sociopath who ruins their lives. Far from a classic Heights still holds up as a scary thriller--although you always know who the villain is you are nonetheless terrified wondering when and how his clever deadly tactics will strike next. In Cold Creek the enemy is too visible too recognizable and has little method to his madness. The final confrontation is so overdone--Dale chasing Cooper and Leah around the house one of those menacing farm tools in hand while a storm rages outside-- that you feel cheated.