baseball movies

Movie Review: For Love of the Game – December is a Great Time for a Baseball Movie!

Written by Michael Shaara and Dana Stevens
Directed by Sam Raimi

I’ve been a baseball fan all my life, and a diehard Mets fan all that time. There are few films about baseball that don’t speak to me on some level, and For Love of the Game is no exception.

Kevin Costner is Billy Chapel, a pitcher getting near the end of his career with the Detroit Tigers. Nolan Ryan excepted, pitchers don’t tend to have careers as long as other players. Catchers either, although they can sometimes make a transition to a different position. When team owner Gary Wheeler (portrayed by Brian Cox) visits Billy in the clubhouse prior to the final game of the season, he talks about his deep love of the sport. This is leading up to the announcement that he plans to sell the team and trade Billy. This news tears Billy up. On top of this, his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Jane Aubrey (portrayed by Kelly Preston) announces her plans to leave him and take a new job in London. Billy has to pitch that day against the Yankees who are trying to clinch the division title in the final game of the season – things are not looking good.

The story between Billy and Jane is largely told in a flashback as Billy is pitching the game of his career. The story shifts between the current time where Billy has a perfect game going and Jane is on her way to the airport and the evolution of their relationship over the last five years.

The story is a love story. It’s a love story between two people and it’s a love story that many people have with the sport of baseball. As many have pointed out, there’s no other sport like it. You’re not playing against the clock, but Billy is playing against time as his body is letting him know that he’s not the same person he was when he arrived in the major leagues.

There aren’t many surprises to the story. Of course, the cabbie giving Jane a ride to the airport has the Yankee game on. Of course her plane is delayed and in the airport lounge everyone is tuned to the game. Of course, Jane’s daughter happens to run away to her druggie-father’s place in Boston just when Billy is there with the team and Jane calls him begging him to go after her. Of course, just as Jane gives in to Billy’s invites to join him at spring training, she arrives to find him in bed with the masseuse. Let’s not forget the career-threatening injury from which Billy must fight back and which puts a wedge between the two of them.

However, I did enjoy For Love of the Game, although not in the same way I enjoyed Bull Durham, A League of Their Own, Field of Dreams, or Pride of the Yankees.

Kevin Costner nails the part of Billy Chapel. Although I didn’t buy him as being in his late thirties or turning forty (he’s about fifteen years too old for that part), he did a great job with this role. He’s always seemed to have as much of a love of the game as any fan I’ve ever known, and he’s had enough experience with baseball films that by this point in time I can count on him to do a fantastic job in the game scenes. It was great to watch him go to the mound and tune out all that is going on around him; the rowdy fans, the noise of the stadium, the calls from the opposing dugout and just focus on throwing to the batter using whatever he has to in maintaining a certain level of focus to psyche himself up and intimidate those he’s pitching to. It reminded me of the times I’d seen Tom Seaver pitch in my younger days (and his too).

The biggest problem I had with Jane didn’t involve the performance by Kelly Preston. She did fine in the role, holding her own with Costner and managing to convey some decent chemistry between the two despite the fact that Costner’s Billy Chapel often seems distracted in his romance with Jane. The most powerful scene between the two of them when Billy is pushing Jane away after his injury could have been horrible, but they pulled it off nicely. As Jane is trying to buoy him up by relating her own life experiences to him and he comes back dismissively with the “life gives you lemons you make lemonade…” cliché, I could feel the knife he’s placed in her heart by being so dismissive and self-absorbed.

The problem I had was I couldn’t figure out who she was supposed to be. Initially, I thought she was a working-class woman who is wooed by the “baseball superstar”. This seemed to be further reinforced by the dropping in of a daughter (excellent portrayal by Jena Malone) whom she states she had when she was sixteen. Yet later on, Jane is in a high-class art gallery rubbing elbows with what I call “the New York elite” and is taking a job as an editor in London. The character seems to be two entirely different people from the beginning of the film to the end.

The cinematography is beautiful and captures what it’s like to be at a ballgame. In the beginning, Costner is off looking at the clouds, and I knew what he’s looking at. It was a beautiful day for a game. The shots are terrific on the field, capturing the baseball segments and making me feel as if it were authentic. Director Sam Raimi did a terrific job catching the spirit of Yankees fans here too. Having suffered among them all my life, New Yorkers in general and Yankee fans more specifically are just as arrogant and rude as they are in the film.

slight spoiler

I never felt that I knew how the game would end. Chapel could have pitched the perfect game as a great way to go out, or he could have lost it to the young player who is the son of someone Billy once played with. The interplay between the two of them at the beginning seems to foreshadow this, and it’s no surprise when the kid just up from the minors is potentially the last batter Chapel will ever face. Either scenario would have been a fine ending, but I think the direction the film took was important to resolving the romance between Billy and Jane.

end slight spoiler

Although not my favorite baseball film, it is pretty good. I enjoyed it a great deal and in many ways as I am aging and seeing the changes to my favorite sport, I feel the same way Billy and Gary Wheeler do.


Spotlight on Location – promotional featurette on the film
Deleted Scenes – don’t really add anything. An entire storyline with the manager’s wife having cancer was deleted and rightly so in my opinion
The Perfect Game – a still piece talking about the rarity of a perfect game in baseball
On the Mound Trivia Game

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