9. “For Love of the Game“
Featuring Brian Cox and J.K. Simmons
A romance drama about a pitcher nearing the end of his career who flashes back on his imperfect love life during one of his best career performances in the final game of a horrible season.
Kevin Costner is brilliant in his 3rd baseball movie.
Say what you want about him being overpaid at the time but his love for baseball really shows in this film. This movie he plays a pitcher. He is not aided by a body double at all. He throws all is own pitches and performs his on field activities himself. He is in almost every scene. The only scenes he is not in are the airport scenes involving Kelly Preston. But he is pitching on the TV in the background so I guess that kind of counts.
The entire movie is told from a first person perspective. The opening scenes are accompanied by the musical score by Basil Poledouris which is heard throughout the movie.
It’s very rare that a sports movie could jump back and forth time wise until it finds a center, but this movie pulls it off beautifully.
Kevin Costner plays Billy Chapel. Billy has pitched in the majors for 19 seasons with the Detroit Tigers as his only employer. That is something you never hear of from todays game of baseball with all the free agency moves and greed. Billy’s life is baseball. Everything else comes after for him. He is a lonely man off the field as he never has been able to maintain a relationship or family life for himself. He was brought up to put baseball first and everything else second. He explains this briefly on his first date with Jane (Kelly Preston) that his father only loved two things in life : His mother and baseball. Prior to the last game of the season in New York against the Yankees, Jane informs him that she is moving to London. Also the Tigers owner Gary Wheeler(Brian Cox) informs Billy that he sold the team to a corporate group and their first order of business would be to trade Billy in the off season to the Giants. He informs Billy that he never would have allowed the sale had he known that. He urges Billy to retire after the season instead of playing for another team. Billy must decide at the end of the game if he should continue on with baseball, or pursue a more meaningful relationship with Jane. Billy pitches his heart out and throws harder than usual nearly on. In between innings he flashes back on his entire relationship with Jane. We learn that Billy hasn’t been that great of a boyfriend to a woman who clearly loved Billy for Billy. Not for being a ball player. He never opens up to her.
She asks questions like
“Have you ever gotten your heart broken?”
He responds by saying
“Yes! we lost the pennant in ’87.”
When he gets hurt, he shuts her down completely.
By the time the flashbacks arrive to where the movie began, we understand completely why she stood him up and chose to move to London. Jane meanwhile is stuck at the airport and forced to watch the game on tv with a bunch of Yankee fans. She is upset about her flight being delayed at first, but misses it completely as Billy is closing in on pitching the perfect game.
Also watching from USC is Janes daughter Heather(Jena Malone) who Billy has formed a close father/daughter bond with from his time with Jane.
Rounding out the main cast is John C. Reilly who plays Gus Sinski. Billy’s personal catcher and best friend who provides some comic relief at certain points throughout this film to break the ice.
J.K. Simmons plays Tigers manager Frank Perry. He respects Billy and usually lets Billy have his way but often feels the need to play manager to him just to get his 2 cents in.
The two main teams featured in this movie are the Tigers and Yankees. Their rosters are completely fictional. Several real life Major League players and coaches are used as extras in the baseball sequences. So is the umpiring crew played by Rick Reed, Rich Garcia and Jerry Crawford.
Legendary Yankees announcer Bob Sheppard is heard in the Yankee Stadium scenes. The most realistic aspect of this movie is the TV shots, replays and commentaries played throughout the airport scenes on their TV’s. Broadcasting legend Vin Scully and commentator Steve Lyons play themselves.
Overall I think everything blended well. The cast worked well together. Director Sam Raimi drew a perfect line between the fans and the players. Each side is portrayed as fairly as possible. 2 major up and coming issues that this movie touches upon that started to rise in the mid to late 1990’s is corporations taking over baseball teams and TV replays from all angles.
We hear the Tigers being sold to an unnamed corporate group at the beginning and we see them in the press box towards the end watching the game. Throughout the game Gus and Billy talk about the changes that will be made in the offseason with the new owners.
It was a starting trend in the 1990s where corporations took over sports teams and named the stadiums for their company. Today this is a very common development in baseball and it is very rare for players to spend their entire careers with one team. The TV replays from all angles have also become a common practice in todays game. It has worked so well that MLB has begun using video replays to get calls right. This was a trend that begun in the 1990s as well.
Although the TV replays do not factor with the storyline, the corporate part is where the title of the movie originates from. It is made clear when Billy tenders his resignation on a baseball towards the end of the game which reads
“Tell them I’m through. For love of the game”
or something like that.
I love the hidden meaning in this film. In the end, Billy serves the new corporate owners right when he writes his resignation on a baseball and signs it “For love of the game”.
My only complaint about this movie is that there were no Tiger home game scenes. Tiger stadium would have been fitting for an old school pitcher like Billy Chapel. My guess is that they tried to get Billy to face the opposition as much as possible to show how he has stood his test of time whether it’s at Yankee stadium or the streets of New York.
4 and 1/2 stars.