Directed By Craig Roberts
Starring – Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Rhys Ifans
The Plot – The heart-warming true story of Maurice Flitcroft (Rylance), who entered the 1976 Open despite never playing a round of golf before.
Rated PG-13 for some strong adult language and character smoking
Sports biopics are a dime a dozen, especially in the way their formulaic structures stitch so many of them together with predictable emphasis hindering the compelling beats of the story. That isn’t the case with Maurice Flitcroft’s story, as the film not only excels at being an insightful piece about golf in which the film navigates through all of the segregated prejudices associated with a rich man’s sport, but it also conjures up a remarkable character study in Maurice that endears him to be anything other than the typical athlete we’ve come to expect in these narratives. He’s a dreamer whose dreams often get the best of him, made apparent by Roberts’ various fantasy sequences he deposits to the film, which bring with them a richly intoxicating air of imagination to the occasion. Beyond this, he’s really quite awful at his sport of choice, picking up the game at a time in his life where he’s considered elderly by the sport’s standards, but never in ways that hinder his determined spirit to constantly keep trying. This makes the aspects of Maurice’s will to continue in the sport ripe with the kind of craziness that has to be fictional, but the bigger the measure, the more astonishing the narrative, especially considering everything contained actually happened in real life. Maurice’s resiliency is really what endears us mostly to the character, with an impeccable spirit that is not only inspiring, but downright revolutionary towards deconstructing the games we often take too seriously. However, the tonal consistency of Roberts’ feature, at least for the first hour, is equally delightful, with an upbeat timely soundtrack and picture-perfect editing schemes playing so vividly against the backdrop of Flitcroft’s many on-course blunders to produce a comic consistency with no shortage of effective resonance for the occasion. Beyond this, the production of the movie’s 70’s period piece, especially that of British geographic relevance is realized fruitfully in both wardrobe and presentation, with the latter prescribing some unique sentiments of artistic merit to immerse audiences in the grasp of television broadcasts. The grainy cinematography from experimental visionary Kit Fraser breeds authenticity in its weathered and spotty surroundings, and the outdated ideals of fashion both on and off of the greens, works wonderfully in the established setting of Manchester, where atmospherically there feels like a social disconnect with the rest of the world. The plaid pants and faded sweater vests are a nice touch, but for my money the subtleties in set decor convey a lower-class reality hang over the family’s dealings like a constant reminder of the urgency of time working against them, a sentiment that feels thicker with Maurice chasing his dream at such a tender time. Finally, the work of Rylance and Hawkins are a stellar triumph, with the former eliciting an honest transformation that is never limited to just prosthetics, and the latter supplanting the various engagements with a humbling heart to combat its sweetly silly moments of sports. Each of their dynamics to the film play into its overwhelming sense of optimism, but never in ways that show the visible strings of roberts intention, instead bearing a nuanced charm that plays all the more fruitfully towards their impeccable warmth in chemistry.
For the first hour of this film, there’s a uniqueness in personality that not only accentuates the beats of the narrative, but also conjures originality for sports biopics that are often taken a bit too pretentiously. That unfortunately changes with the film’s final act, which trades in the hilarity entirely for a stern sincerity that muddles a little too close to conventionalism for my taste. It’s not that the story’s sincere beats don’t offer something compelling to the dynamic of the character, it’s just not as consistently entertaining as the value attained in the other side of the tonal spectrum, instead stretching out the pacing for the first time in the film in ways that will have you checking your watch to see how much time is left in the movie’s run time. Speaking of time allowance, I found the balance to sometimes strain necessity in the arcs it pads, and the other ones it omits completely. One such aspect of the script pertains to Maurice’s twin sons who start a dance team to follow their dreams. The intention is obvious, with them following in the footsteps of their father as a longshot, but it’s constantly brought up in ways that feel like a bigger deal in a script that never cares to flesh out why golf of all things means so much to Maurice, an aspect that could’ve used a scene or two toward making this feel like a passionate plunge instead of a temporary trance.
“The Phantom of the Open” isn’t quite the birdie needed to uplift a thunderous roar from the audience, but it is a passionate par that conjures up enough laughs and ensuing mayhem to a story with no shortage of either in the life of its anything but athletic protagonist. It’s a simultaneous tale of fantasy and fame, and what happens when the former bleeds into the latter for the reasons no one was truly expecting.
My Grade: 7/10 or B