Review: Costner hits home run 'For Love of the Game'
September 21, 1999
By Reviewer Paul Clinton
(CNN) -- Certain actors, when wearing certain articles of clothing, seem to achieve automatic success. Bogie in a trench coat was always a crowd pleaser. Charlton Heston just needed to put on a leather diaper to attract moviegoers. With Kevin Costner the secret appears to be a baseball player's uniform.
The Academy Award-winning actor always seems to hit home runs when he puts on cleats -- first "Bull Durham" in 1988, and then "Field of Dreams" in 1989. Now, a decade later, he's suited up for "For Love of the Game," where he plays a veteran pitcher facing the biggest game, and the biggest decisions of his life.
Costner plays Billy Chapel, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers for more than 20 years. Jane Aubrey, played by Kelly Preston, has been the love of his life for five years. In quick succession, he's told the team has been sold, he's being traded out of the big leagues, and Jane announces that she's leaving him, because she can no longer compete with his love of baseball.
Now all alone on the pitcher's mound in Yankee Stadium, surrounded by thousands of screaming fans, he finds himself pitching a perfect game as he looks at his life, both on and off the field, via flashbacks. Two games are being played simultaneously, one in the stadium, one in his heart.
Still thrilled with the play"For Love of the Game" is a perfect showcase for Costner's strongest character, that of the reluctant all-American hero.
This film also makes it clear once again that Costner loves the game of baseball. His performance on the field is believable every second of the way. Everyone else involved in the game sequences were either actual ball players, or actors with organized ball playing experience. The results are extremely realistic.
Director Sam Raimi also continues to show great range. Known for years for his expertise in the fantasy-thriller genre, he helmed such films as the cult classic "The Evil Dead," and "Darkman" with Liam Neeson.
Then last year, he directed the critically acclaimed film "A Simple Plan," starring Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Paxton. His expert handling of that project led to "For Love of the Game."
Raimi loves kinetic camerawork and he shows it off in this film. The game footage is shot like television coverage and has the urgency of a live event. His use of sound is also effective. As Billy concentrates on the mound, all sound fades into a vacuum.
Kelly Preston holds her own
But the biggest revelation from this film is Preston. Known mainly to the world in general as Mrs. John Travolta, she has shined before in films like "Jerry Maguire" and "Citizen Ruth," but she's never had a role that has put her front and center quite like this film does.
For the first time in a major Hollywood film, we see Preston go through a huge range of emotions, and she holds her own frame by frame in all her scenes with Costner.
John C. Reilly plays Billy's best friend, Gus Sinski. He's also the team's catcher. Reilly delivers a beautifully understated performance. Gus is at the heart of the film, and the only person who knows the full extent of the pain Billy is going through.
Costner has reportedly been upset with Universal Studios over cuts to the film that gave the project a PG-13 rating, rather than a more adult R rating. But the results work well. "For Love of the Game" works as both a love story between a man and a woman, and a love story between a man and America's favorite pastime.
Rated PG-13. 137 minutes. Look for a scene about halfway through the film, when Billy looks into the stands and sees his dead parents looking on. The two people are in fact Costner's (very much alive) parents, Sharon Rae and Billy V. Costner.
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