Some sports biopics inspire, others make you laugh, and there are those that do both.
“Phantom of the Open,” unfortunately, isn’t such a film.
The movie tells the true story of Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance) a middle class shipping worker in an English port town. Upon hearing that the company he works for may be downsizing in the years to come, he begins considering what else he can do in life.
After a night of watching golf on TV, he decides to try his luck at the sport, entering the 1976 Open Championship. The only problem is Flitcroft is a complete amateur entering a professional competition. Despite this, he goes forward with support from his family.
“Phantom” is a film that’s never able to establish its tone well. The film bounces from being a dramatic comedy to a goofy feature, never finding a real identity.
The shifting back and forth ends up making the comedy too absurd to enjoy as a dramatic film and overly serious at times to appreciate it as a fluffy piece of entertainment.
This problem is largely tied to its main character. Maurice Flitcroft is portrayed at times as sort of a village idiot, where he acts like a completely naive individual who doesn’t recognize that he’s a rather poor golfer.
In other moments, though, the film presents him almost as a tragic individual who’s having a mid-life crisis, is upset because he’s being made fun of and can’t do what he enjoys. The film can’t seem to find the correct balance for the character, and it ultimately becomes difficult to connect with him.
In fact it actually becomes harder to root for the character as the movie goes on. The film shows Maurice trying to sneak his way back into the professional golf tournament not as a lighthearted prank, but as a legitimate way to compete in the event.
It makes Maurice appear as an ignorant individual, since he doesn’t seem to realize that he could potentially enjoy golf at a smaller level. This would be like a guy thinking he could play in the NBA and being upset when a team rejects him and tells him to play in a pick-up league.
This is compounded by the fact that Maurice’s dedication to his golf antics end up putting a financial strain on his family’s living situation. It’s difficult to support the character as he does this. His golfing efforts start to feel selfish after a while, especially since he isn’t portrayed as having a deep love of golf.
He has a random dream sequence one night about golf after watching a tournament, but it’s not shown as a lifelong wish. It’s not like, say, “Eddie the Eagle,” where the protagonist had a huge desire since childhood to be an Olympian and actually had some skill.
This isn’t meant to be a jab at the real figure, either. His story seems rather fascinating, but what’s put to screen leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to the execution.
This seems like a pretty harsh review, but in all honesty “Phantom of the Open” isn’t a bad movie, but it does feel like a major missed opportunity. The story at hand is an interesting one, but the filmmakers couldn’t seem to find the right way to tell the tale.
Featuring a capable cast and boasting a few funny moments, “Phantom of the Open” is a watchable movie, but not at all memorable. The film fumbles its interesting premise, unable to properly explore its lead character. 2.4 out of 5.