The Phantom of the Open Synopsis: Amateur golfer Maurice Flitcroft achieves his late-in-life goal of participating in the British Open Golf Championship, much to the ire of the staid golfing community.
The eccentric Maurice Flitcroft lives most of his life relegated to a dead-end job while supporting his wife and the aspirations of his three children. Despite his unpretentious existence, Maurice maintains a wistful spirit as he stargazes for a passion that will enlighten him. He soon finds that source through his spontaneous discovery of golf, but his journey is not the typical storybook tale of a vergining athlete.
Instead, Maurice finds himself in the British Open Golf Championship record books for scoring the worst round in the tournament’s history. His unlikely odyssey receives the biopic treatment in The Phantom of the Open. Like Maurice himself, the film charts its own path in sports movie lore. Director Craig Roberts and Screenwriter Simon Farnaby collaborate on an infectiously cheerful crowdpleaser that fits their underdog subject to a tee.
How can one man’s continual failure serve as a source of inspiration? For Roberts and Farnaby, the duo wisely eschew sports movie traditions by analyzing the winning spirit behind Maurice’s losing endeavor. Farnaby paints Maurice as a figure motivated by undying optimism – forgoing the hardened cynicism of the world around him as he continually pushes himself and his family to follow their dreams. For the Flitcroft clan, it’s less about achieving the grand prize than following your passions wherever they take you. That sentiment registers with surprisingly powerful resonance throughout The Phantom of the Open.
It would be easy for the premise to feel mawkish in the wrong hands. Fortunately, Farnaby and Roberts possess enough skill and sincerity behind the camera. Farnaby’s script paints a deft balance between Maurice’s optimism and the stuffy golf world that condemns him, often mining humorous gags at the two side’s dissident sensibilities. The juxtaposition also creates proper dramatic gravity onscreen, with Farnaby incorporating enough harsh roadblocks to embed his material in a sense of reality (Maurice’s mindset is constantly challenged by his pragmatic son Michael).
In terms of craft, Roberts incorporates more visual pop than your typical feel-good sports film. The director keenly shies away from the overworked theatrics of other melodramatic crowdpleasers. His even-keeled presence foregoes the rigid aesthetics and blaring score choices synonymous with the genre – a decision that allows the material’s strengths to speak on their own accord. Roberts’ embrace of subversive dream sequences and articulate perspective frames also imbues a creative spark as viewers get lost in Maurice’s mindset.
It would be hard to imagine The Phantom of the Open working quite as well without its Oscar-winning star. Mark Rylance effortlessly disappears into Maurice’s idiosyncratic persona, conveying the subject’s unique spark without overworking the real-life subject into a goofy caricature. After enjoying a career built from character actor efforts, it’s been a joy to see Rylance unleash his charisma and subdued techniques in leading roles (Rylance also shines in 2022’s The Outfit). Supporting players Sally Hawkins, Jake Davies, Jonah Lees, and Christin Lees skillfully round out the Flitcroft family through their lived-in rapport.
The Phantom of the Open delivers feel-good energy in droves. The film reinterprets the contrivances of sports films and biopics alike in a crowdpleaser that understands there are more important facets of life than winning the big game.
The Phantom of the Open is now playing in select theaters.
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