For a while there in the 90s, Kevin Costner was the quintessential, all American movie star. He was nominated for Oscars in front of and behind the camera, he raked in massive box office and was given money to make pretty much anything he wanted. One of the first movies to start that rise was Bull Durham where Costner played an aging baseball player, on his way out of the game, trying to figure out who he was and what his life meant without the game.
More than decade later, Costner played an aging baseball player, on his way out of the game, trying to figure out who he was and what his life meant without the game in For Love of the Game. Maybe he was too young in Bull Durham, maybe he was too old in For Love of the Game, but I’ll be buggered if this all American son of a bitch doesn’t kill it both times.
Pitching for the Detroit Tigers, where he’s been since the 80s, Billy Chapel (Costner) is watching the game change around him. The team’s longtime owner (Brian Cox) is selling up, one of his best friends is being traded to another team, and he’s starting to realise that age is catching up with him. One day, on the side of the road, he finds Jane (Kelly Preston), stranded with a broken down car. He fixes the car, invites her to that night’s game and after a few false starts, they begin seeing each other seriously.
There’s a little infidelity, the revelation that Jane has a teenaged daughter and Billy struggling with what is seemingly the first serious relationship of his life. But because this is a movie with a romance at its centre, you know there has to be a major hiccup a little past the half way mark, and some sort of grand gestures and character growth to prove that love can conquer all. Also John C Reilly is there as shortstop and Billy’s old friend to give us some patented John C Reilly comic relief.
For Love of the Game is a standard sports movie and a standard romantic drama in a lot of ways, but there a few little tweaks that make it seem so much fresher than that. It takes place over at least five years, which gives real gravitas to the relationship between Billy and Jane in a way that most romance based movies just don’t have. They’re attracted to each other immediately, but they’re not fairytale in love immediately. For love of the Game even goes so far as to show that falling in love isn’t all that easy, that it can be a right pain in the ass.
I was surprised to see Sam Raimi’s name next to the director credit in this movie. Raimi started his career doing cheap and nasty horror, he moved on to slapstick horror comedy and movies steeped in strong genre rules. Only a couple of years after this, he would single handedly define what superheroes movies can be with Spider-Man. I think it’s that eclectic filmography and knack for making B-grade tropes something more is what makes For Love of the Game more than a standard sports movie and more than a standard romantic drama. Also, it turns out that it’s kind of hard to mess up when you put Kevin Costner in a baseball movie.