Dream Big: ‘The Phantom Of The Open’ Reviewed

Just as there’s a difference between reality and fiction, inspirational stories aren’t fairy tales. In the movies, though, that distinction isn’t always so clear. There are the hardships that must be overcome, but can a story be inspirational and not have a wholly “happily ever after” ending?

This is what director, Craig Roberts, achieves with The Phantom of the Open, a film based on the true story of Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance), who dreamed of playing golf in the British Open and managed to make it to the qualifying round through sheer tenacity.

Some career changes happen by choice, others out of necessity. Flitcroft’s is somewhere in between. While he was still employed at the shipyard when he decided to pick up golfing, talk had started of redundancies, and Flitcroft wanted to be prepared for the worst the night he stepped on his remote control. In Roberts’ hands, however, that step becomes fate intervening to change Maurice’s life forever.

Roberts flirts with destiny a few times in The Phantom of the Open, but the reason these shots work so well is the dream is always balanced by reality. Yes, the TV turns on when Maurice steps on the controller, but not to a golf game. Flitcroft has to change the channel twice (and his TV only has three channels, so all fate did was turn the TV on when Maurice might have left it off).

Later Maurice is on his way to work and it’s the classic shot from so many working-class movies of the men walking to the factory. Suddenly, though, Maurice unbuttons his shirt and adopts a Superman pose, revealing a golf sweater vest underneath. Both of these scenes are familiar yet, by putting them together, Roberts makes something new out of them.

What’s more, dreamers sometimes get pegged as naïve, because they aren’t discouraged by obstacles other people balk at. What’s great about how Rylance plays Maurice is he’s no doormat. In one scene, Maurice gets snubbed by some golfers who are members at the club he tries to join. Maurice might be polite to their face, but he’s aware he’s been snubbed and that’s apparent the moment they go out of earshot.

Some of the film’s realism undoubtedly comes from the fact that it’s about a real person. The truth keeps the film honest, but it’s also very clear that Roberts and Simon Farnaby (who wrote the screenplay and also co-wrote the book the film is based on with Scott Murray) are aware of the expectations people have, about how feel-good movies operate. It’s still impressive, though, how often this film is able to subvert expectations. It starts early, too, like when Maurice talks about spending time in Scotland during the war and being encouraged to dream big. This doesn’t stop him from having to work in the shipyards as soon as the war is over.

The Phantom of the Open might seem predictable at first but, for better or worse, Maurice Flitcroft never gave up. Roberts and Farnaby deserve credit for showing both the better and the worst of that decision.

The Phantom of the Open is available on Blu-Ray and DVD starting August 30th from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Just as there’s a difference between reality and fiction, inspirational stories aren’t fairy tales. In the movies, though, that distinctionCOMICONRead More

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