June 6th, 2022
MOVIE: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPEN
STARRING: MARK RYLANCE, SALLY HAWKINS, RHYS IFANS
DIRECTED BY: CRAIG ROBERTS
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The term “crowd-pleaser” tends to be a negative thing to say about a movie. Typically it fits into the range of awards season stuff such as Belfast or something that the 40-80 age group can choose for their night out. It’s an alternative for Marvel stuff, sure, but sometimes it’s a bit too cute, and although The Phantom of the Open checks every box for being a “crowd pleaser”, it still won me over with a wild story of a man that faked his way into being a pro golfer. It helps to have two excellent leads in Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins, two actors that are genuine salt and pepper shakers of great performers. The Phantom of the Open won’t break the mold of a crowd pleaser but it is delightfully par for the course.
We first meet Maurice Flitcroft (Rylance) working in the shipyards, sitting in his post with his fellow co-workers, enjoying a sandwich and a beer on his break. That’s the majority of what you do in the small England coastal town of Barrow-in-Furness, where Maurice had three sons, and his wife Jean (Hawkins) to keep him busy, sparking his purpose in life. But as his three boys would become men, the promise of an empty nest can have the mind wander, and in 1976 Maurice had it in his head that he could play golf. That was in his imagination, but in reality he was terrible, never played a round in his life, and then up and decided to sign up for the prestigious British Open. Through shifty verbiage- stating he was a “professional” on his application- Maurice found himself in the tee box and proceeded to play the worst round of golf in the history of the sport.
The direction from Craig Roberts is straight forward, reminiscent of other recent oddball sports movies such as Dream Horse or 12 Mighty Orphans, where the odds of success are slim. The screenplay from Simon Farnaby- adapted from Scott Murray’s book of the same title- is balancing the screwball nature of the story, which I believe needed to be even screwier. What Flitcroft was able to get away with is quite astounding, placing himself amongst the greatest in the sport of golf without any experience is relatively impossible today, and it’s displayed in montages of one awful shot after the next. What we don’t see enough of is his relationships with others around him. She’s not entirely missing, but I was hoping for much more with Hawkins’ character, as her character is sidelined to be the wife at home worrying about her husband. When it comes to the career of Sally Hawkins, her resume and talents have already proved that she’s more than just a placeholder in any film.
The fun stuff is the golfing and a second act where Flitcroft’s initial play at the British Open has sent up flags to higher ups. This includes the film’s lone villain in the tour director Keith Mackenzie (played by a grumbling Rhys Ifans), who becomes set on capturing Flitcroft before he can enter a tournament. That leads to the hilarious sequence of moments where Flitcroft uses disguises and made up names to sneak back in, only for him to continue to play as awful as I would. The golf being played is bad and it does become an enjoyable mess of a sport that takes amazing talent and skill.
When the final verdict lands it’s already a mixed bag of golf balls, where the actors involved are sturdy, a few laughs, a few moments of emotion, and not enough to praise. The Phantom of the Open ultimately lines up with the main character, a man who mysteriously found himself on the biggest stage ever, only to fail upwards into notoriety. It’s a sweet and fun story. A real crowd-pleaser. The end result is not a hole in one but that’s not what director Craig Roberts was going for. He’s just happy Maurice Flitcroft’s story has now been told.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPEN IS AVAILABLE TO RENT ON DEMAND
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady