Top 100 Movies Of The 1990's: #85 For Love Of The Game
Box Office: $35.2 Million
Oscar Nominations: None
Oscar Wins: None
Available To Stream: Starz
There is no chance this movie would be on this list if I didn't love baseball so much. This was not well-received when it came out. It lost money and it was not beloved by critics. Roger Ebert kind of hated it. It even got Kevin Costner nominated for a Razzie for Worst Actor. Since it was released, I wouldn't say it's become beloved. "Sort of forgotten about" is probably a more apt description.
For a baseball fan, this offers a lot. In a way, it offers more now than it did when it came out. They wisely have Vin Scully doing the play-by-play and it's great to hear him again. I wasn't as excited to hear Steve "Psycho" Lyons but he was rarely used. You also get old Yankee Stadium and Bob Shepherd doing the public address. I also love great starting pitching. My favorite athlete all-time is Pedro Martinez. Going to see him pitch when I was living in New England was awesome. I've been lucky enough to see two no-hitters in person (Johan Santana and Chris Heston) and the Johan one especially is one of my best sports memories. Having For Love Of The Game use the perfect game as the foundation to the movie was always going to win me over.
I hesitate calling this a "rom-com" because it's not particularly funny. It is a fair point to say this movie hits the tropes too hard. the boy meets girl in a cute fashion, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back formula is always stale. This even ends in an airport. I'm not going to defend that. I will say I don't dislike all of the romantic elements though. I liked how it showed both Billy Chapel (Costner) and Jane (Kelly Preston) as flawed people who both fuck up and when they do, you can understand their perspectives. She is too guarded and distant at first and that's because she has a daughter. He's selfish and too focused on his craft and that's because he is a celebrity who lives along and has always had baseball in his life.
At this point in director Sam Raimi's career, this was the largest budget he had ever worked with. Although For Love Of The Game did lose a little money, it didn't sidetrack his career too much. After this, he went on to direct the smaller thriller The Gift. That did turn a profit and he was given the Spider-Man movies after that. I like the touches he puts in the movie and you can tell he really loves baseball. Having Billy Chapel shutout the crowd noise is a great detail and the best parts of the movie is Costner alone on the mound talking to himself. Raimi has confidence in the Costner and the pacing of the movie to let things breathe in those moments.
When the decade of the 90's started, Costner was King Shit. His Dances With Wolves just came out and got him Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. He was even nominated for Best Actor. As the decade wore on, his popularity started to wane. JFK , Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and The Bodyguard were all hits but he runs into trouble with Waterworld and eventually The Postman. For Love Of The Game closes out the 90's for him and was still being offered $20 million a film at this point but the days of him opening a blockbuster movie on his name alone were over.
This isn't my favorite Kevin Costner performance. That's Field of Dreams for me. I love that movie so much and even with all the bizarre things surrounding Ray Kinsella, Costner grounds that entire movie. You believe the story because HE believes it. With this movie, you need to like Billy Chapel. A third of the movie, you are alone with him on that mound while he's muttering to himself. If this isn't someone you'd want to get a beer (or cider) with, this wouldn't work.
I also love how this gets baseball history right. It has the Tigers winning the 1984 World Series and losing the American League pennant in 1987. Billy Chapel's career is somewhat close to Jack Morris'. For a movie to allow you to make a real-life comparison like that, it has to get the MLB stuff down. For Love Of The Game does that. From the uniforms to Costner being a good athlete in real life, you do feel like you are watching Major League Baseball.
This isn't the greatest baseball movie ever. It's not even the greatest of this decade. But it is a good movie that maybe didn't have great timing. After a decade full of baseball movies after the success of Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, audiences seems pretty tired of them by 1999. It came out in the dumping ground of September that year and never hit number one. It was beaten out by the Martin Lawrence cop comedy Blue Streak and the Ashley Judd/Tommy Lee Jones thriller Double Jeopardy.
Time may hurt Billy Chapel but it also is the thing that helps this movie. You appreciate John C. Reilly more now. Like I said earlier, the older baseball stuff with Vin Scully is great. Since Kevin Costner has spent the last 15 years being various forms of a cowboy, you aren't tired of him playing baseball. Instead, it feels right in a way. This is the movie equivalent of some great chicken noodle soup. It's predictable comfort food but if it's made just right, it can be a stand out meal.
85. For Love Of The Game
87. Men In Black
90. Three Kings
98. Any Given Sunday