Is there anybody else in Hollywood that can pull of playing a Hall of Fame worthy baseball player? Kevin Costner is known to be a fine baseball player and after "Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams," Costner had made a name for himself in making baseball movies. He is an ambassador to the game and Costner has performed in some All Star games and taken part in other baseball ceremonies. In "For Love of the Game," Costner threw every pitch and fielded every ball seen in the film. He has always been a prototypical American movie star and when it comes to cowboys and baseball players, Kevin Costner is among the best. "For Love of the Game" completes the so-called "Baseball Trilogy" for Costner and his performance shows his love for the game and his ability as both an athlete and an actor.
Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner) is a pitcher destined for the Hall of Fame, but during his final game his entire life plays out in his head and he is oblivious to the fact that he is pitching a perfect game. Gary Wheeler (Brian Cox) has made Chapel aware that the Detroit Tigers are about to be sold and that the new owners will try to trade him. Having always been a Tiger and suffering from an injured hand, Chapel decides before the game that he will retire, but he doesn't let anybody know until after the Seventh inning stretch. On Billy's mind is not the strikeouts he is throwing against the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium, but of a beautiful woman that he has loved for five years.
Jane Aubrey (Kelly Preston) has been in and out of Billy's life, but she cannot fit into his baseball player lifestyle and she has moved on. She is at an airport and misses her plane when she sees Billy's final game on television. She still loves Billy very much, but he has never told her that he loves her and has always been a boy and never transcended into the skin of man. Billy had pushed Jane away when he injured his hand, but he asked her to come to New York for the game and tried to win her back. As she watched Billy pitch his final game, her thoughts are of the time they spent together and her heart goes out to the man she had loved so strongly as he is doing what he loves the most for the last time.
Although he loved the game and was one of the greatest pitchers of his time, Billy knows his time has come. He has difficulty throwing pitches with the hand he injured while cutting wood. Baseball has been his life, but there was always a deep emptiness inside and Jane had filled that void. Jane and her daughter Heather (Jena Malone) were his family and now that he knows he is pitching his last game, his thoughts are only of the woman he loved and her daughter. Billy had demanded to his manager Frank Perry (JK Simmons) that his longtime friend and catcher Gus Sinksi (John C. Reilly) start in this game although Perry would rather have a younger catcher who can actually hit the ball play. Billy also must face another good friend and now rival, Davis Birch (Bill E. Rogers) in his final game.
I love "For the Love of the Game." I enjoyed "Field of Dreams" and "Bull Durham," but it is this third baseball movie that captures the emotions, drama and sacrifices made by professional ball players. Costner's performance brings feeling to the aged and nearly washed up athlete. Airport bar patrons heckle him and ridicule him for having nothing left. However, when it is his time to say goodbye to the game he shows he still is an amazing player and pulls off a perfect game. He does this without thinking about it and only being filled with the passion he has for Jane. As the baseball game plays out and the romance between Jane and Billy is told, "For Love of the Game" succeeds as a baseball film, a romantic film and a story about anybody's love for anything.
This is a film that was directed by the man responsible for the "Evil Dead" films and eventually the Spider-Man movies. Sam Raimi is a director that is now known for heartfelt films and he had not previously attempted a sports film. Raimi's passion for filmmaking translates perfectly and mixes nicely with Costner's own passion to make a perfect baseball movie. The film is non-linear in composition and it does take one or two extra viewings to completely keep your bearings while watching Billy's perfect game unfold. I've always respected Sam Raimi and he has made some fine films, but there is a level of craftsmanship with "For the Love of the Game" that is not present in other films. This is the most heartfelt movie he has made to date and perhaps the best baseball film ever.
I'm sure I hold the film in higher regard than most others. I was a hockey goalie and didn't have the opportunity to know when my last game was. I've thought about trying to play one more time to go out on my own terms and enjoy the game I loved so much for one more time. Pitchers and hockey goalies are a lot alike and have a lot of weight on their shoulders. I remember times when my own mind wandered and I thought about something other than the game. One game in particular ended in a shutout and I was as surprised as anybody else as I had just broken up with a long time girlfriend and played with a mix of hurt and anger that translated to a shutout. "For Love of the Game" reminds me of those times and it now reminds me of the feelings one has for playing a game they like so much. I knew in my last few games that my career was almost at an end. It is a hard feeling to describe, but Raimi and Costner nail it. "For Love of the Game" could be considered a romantic sports film, but it has more heart than the vast majority of sports movies made to date.
Universal has had its ups and downs with catalog titles and I was more than pleased that "For Love of the Game" has received a stellar transfer that is highly detailed, wonderfully colored and brings Billy Chapel's final and perfect game to life on high definition HD-DVD. The VC-1 film is nicely mastered and preserves the film's 2.35:1 original aspect ratio. The bright lights of Yankee Stadium are brought to life and the pin-striped white Yankee uniforms are clean and bright and perfectly contrasted by their dark blue stripes. Detail is very strong and everything from Kevin Costner's weathered facial features to the dirty mound looks equally strong and impressive. Colors are bright and the nicely lit outdoor sequences are the films strongest and show the spot-on contrast and saturation consistent throughout the film. Fleshtones are accurate. Black levels are deep and whites are bright without being overblown. About the only minor complaint I have with the film is the minor amount of film grain that can be seen during some of the darker scenes and one or two blemishes on the source materials. Overall, "For Love of the Game" looks stunning.
Somebody must know how much I enjoy this film and how much I had hoped for a strong HD-DVD transfer, because Universal has blessed "For Love of the Game" with a solid sounding Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. The most interesting and rewarding scenes are, of course, the baseball scenes and the noise and fervor of a game at Yankee Stadium are perfectly recreated. I've been to a few live baseball games and the soundtrack brings back fond memories of Camden Yards, Veterans Stadium and Fenway Park. The sound of a wooden bat striking a fast ball echoes loudly and clearly. All six speakers are used by this mix and from the rainy scene in New York to the cheering of the crowd when Chapel's game is complete, this is an enveloping experience. Bass is deep, whether it be from the rain storm or the crowd that is jeering Chapel. One of the most memorable moments of "For Love of the Game" is when everything goes silent and this too sounds excellent. Dialogue is also strong, with Costner's voice showing excellent timbre and clarity. "For Love of the Game" makes an excellent argument to include TrueHD with every Universal catalog title.
About an hours worth of bonus features are included on the HD-DVD release of "For Love of the Game" and have been carried over from previous DVD releases. Unfortunately, "For Love of the Game" is a bit thin when compared to other releases from Sam Raimi and I still am hoping for a truly special release at some point in the future. The disc contains the film's theatrical trailer. The electronic press kit feature Spotlight on Location (19:38) is a decent documentary that features the main talent. A lot of information is given about the work done to make the movie as true to baseball as possible and discussion is had about Costner's work ethic during the film and what he went through to pitch eight mile per hour fastballs and such. The Deleted Scenes (21:36) are thrown together and includes new scenes, as well as extended and alternate takes of existing scenes. The closing moment between Billy Chapel and Davis Birch was a nice touch that would not have worked in the film, but was a nice bonus. The interactive The Perfect Game gives a few menu screens talking about perfect games and listing each of them up until Randy Johnson's perfect game in 2004. Finally, On the Mound is a dozen trivia questions regarding perfect games. Answering all of them unlocks the short film Play Ball with Babe Ruth: Slide Babe Slide (9:31) and finds Babe Ruth teaching some kids how to slide. It's fun to watch the Babe slide in nice clothes.
"For Love of the Game" is a fine sports movie and perhaps the perfect baseball film. Kevin Costner is about the only actor in Hollywood who could have made this film and his combination of All-American looks and his baseball athleticism allowed him to become Billy Chapel. Athletes who have played their last game know the feeling of saying goodbye to something as loved as a sport. For me, "For Love of the Game" rings a special note and this is one of my all-time favorite sports movies. I'm a hockey player and put this above even "Slap Shot." The HD-DVD features a great looking picture and a solid Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. The supplements are a little lacking, but till take over an hour to watch them all – that is if you spend enough time to answer all of the trivia questions to watch the bonus Babe Ruth short film. I'm happy with this release and feel that Universal has done well porting the picture from DVD to HD-DVD.