Film

Top Gun on the Links

Succinct Reviews for the Discerning Cinephile

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The Greatest Game Ever Played
dir. Paxton
Opens Fri Sept 30
Various Theaters

If somebody were to ask me to compile a list of things I couldn't care less about, two topics would immediately spring to the top of that list: "golf" and "class struggle in early 20th-century America." Unfortunately, these two subjects are the focal points of The Greatest Game Ever Played—a predictable, true story of an underdog's victory at the 1913 US Open.

During a dry two hours, Francis Ouimet (stoically underacted by Shia LeBeouf) rises up from his lower-class digs to defeat favored defending British champion Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane). Plagued with stiff acting, too many golf montage scenes (Top Gun on the links is not cool, guys), and a gratuitous helping of patriotism, the only thing that makes this movie watchable is an efficient script by Mark Frost, who also wrote the novel that the film's based on.

Quite absurdly, director Bill Paxton (yep, that Bill Paxton) tries to spice it all up with snazzy special effects (yep, special golf effects). They fall flat—unless, of course, you enjoy seeing CG golf balls constantly flying at your face, in which case this is definitely your movie. I, on the other hand, would rather watch bare breasts fly at my face in Caddyshack. MICHAEL FILTZ

Phantom India
dir. Malle
Sat Oct 1-Sun Oct 2
Guild

Filmed during a 1968 trip to India, Louis Malle attempted—with breathtaking ambition—to capture the totality of Indian life on film. The resultant documentary, Phantom India, is over six hours long, and was originally released as a seven-part series on French and British television.

Malle and his team delve into every imaginable aspect of life in India, from the intricacies of the caste system, to Hindu religious ceremonies, to the role that animals play in religion and agriculture. What distinguishes this work—aside from its exhaustive scope—is Malle's acute self-awareness: His understanding that the presence of his camera, in documenting a scene, inevitably changes it, and that his judgments, observations, and even decisions about what is film-worthy are all shaped by his inescapably rational, capitalist, Western European worldview. This self-awareness keeps the documentary from becoming judgmental or heavy-handed, as does the simple beauty of many of the scenes: A reminder that Malle, in addition to his ethnographic interests, was a skilled and innovative filmmaker. ALISON HALLETT

The Tunnel
Dir. Richter
Opens Fri Sept 30
Hollywood Theatre

Based on a true story, The Tunnel satisfies on every level: It's exciting, historically interesting, well-acted, and beautifully filmed. In 1961, a group of West Berlin-based Germans led by former swimming champion Henry Melchior (Heino Ferch) began digging a tunnel under the Berlin Wall in an attempt to rescue friends and family trapped in Communist-controlled East Berlin. Planning the escape requires numerous high-risk trips across the border, and the heroic Henry meets his match in a canny East German officer who uses a combination of psychological trickery and torture to learn details about the escape plans.

The plot sags a bit in the middle, but the screenwriting is bolstered by gorgeous camerawork. The (hot) cast is filmed in muted sepia tones, suggesting a glamorous desperation—an effect accentuated by the detached, impersonal cinematography. (The camera pans with equal interest over a beautiful woman pushing a baby carriage and an industrial expanse of barbed wire, and shots are calculated with artistic precision.) But the story is compelling enough that the film never feels cold; in fact, it's a remarkably tense, engaging thriller, and despite a predictable ending, there are enough twists to keep things riveting right up until the breathless, bittersweet climax. ALISON HALLETT

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