For Love of the Game

Let me start by saying that given Kevin Costner’s track record in sports-related films (Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, and Tin Cup), this film’s release, along with American Beauty, was the one I had been anticipating most as the Fall movie season approached. While not quite measuring up to Costner’s previous baseball efforts, For Love of the Game certainly left me feeling fulfilled, and even a little bit inspired, as I exited the theater.
A package of two different movies in one film (a love story and a baseball story), For Love of the Game, will appeal to both male and female audiences, making it the truly perfect “date” movie. It is the story of Billy Chapel, played by Costner, a 40 year old future Hall of Fame pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, who finds himself in the improbable situation of attempting to throw a perfect game (against the dreaded Yankees of course). The moment Chapel takes the mound in the game’s 1st inning, his thoughts become occupied with vivid memories of the five-year relationship he has had with his love interest, Jane Aubrey, played by Kelly Preston (SpaceCamp, Mischief, Twins) . Throughout the movie, the storyline drifts back and forth between the action on the baseball field and the “action” between Chapel and Aubrey (of which there was surprisingly little). The fact that I didn’t feel the impulse to reach for a remote each time the baseball game was interrupted by one of Chapel’s flashbacks is a testament to the strength of the romance part of the film.

Costner is always a pleasure to watch in sports movies – this one was no exception – because he is among a rare breed of actors that doesn’t make the character he is playing look like your sister when he throws a ball, or swings a golf club. John C. Reilly, perhaps best know for his role in Boogie Nights, gives a solid performance as Chapel’s sidekick catcher, Gus Sinski. Kelly Preston, best known these days for her role as John Travolta’s wife, holds her own as a guarded, slightly-damaged-goods girlfriend.

Vin Scully, who was enlisted to lend his voice to the role of the baseball commentator, can be heard throughout the film. This was a bit of a treat, since Scully is among the game’s best. There were times, however, that I had wished that Scully would shut the hell up and let the action on the screen speak for itself (not unlike how I felt listening to Bob Costas pontificate during NBC’s coverage of this past NBA finals).

In the end, if you are looking for Bull Durham II, you won’t find it in For Love of the Game. This movie, however, which features both a realistic treatment of a pitcher in the midst of throwing a perfect game and a love story teetering precariously on the edge, gives the audience much to root for.

By: Craig Ettinger