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Film Review: “The Phantom of the Open” Hits a Bogey

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 9th, 2022

Film poster: “Phantom of the Open”

The Phantom of the Open (Craig Roberts, 2021) 2 out of 4 stars.

A film in search of a consistent tone, The Phantom of the Open stars some very talented actors who, try as they might, can’t save the uneven material. There are still some enjoyable moments and clever sequences, but nothing that can raise the narrative above the morass of its screenplay. It’s based on a true story, and I am willing to believe that a documentary featuring the real-life details would do the tale better justice.

Mark Rylance (Don’t Look Up) plays Maurice Flitcroft, a man who, in 1976 (at the age of 46), decided that he not only wanted to take up golf but compete in the prestigious British Open. Somehow, he made his way in (thanks to some fudging of facts), and then promptly embarrassed tournament organizers by scoring a 121 (not a good result in golf). Attempts to register for subsequent Opens were refused, so he donned disguises and aliases, which occasionally succeeded, though he would always eventually be recognized. It’s a fantastically outrageous set of facts, ripe for effective dramatization.

Mark Rylance in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPEN ©Sony Pictures Classics

And yet here it too often sags rather than zips. The movie starts out well, with Maurice’s job as a crane operator about to disappear thanks to privatization, as our hero makes the improbable leap from potential failure to superstar (in his own mind). The catalyst for this career change, beyond his pending unemployment, comes when his wife, Jean (Sally Hawkins, Eternal Beauty), tells him that since he has been such a support to her and the family for so long, it’s time for his own dreams to come true. Except he doesn’t have any burning desires. Until, that is, he catches a golf match on TV. And though his sudden love for the sport makes no sense, it still makes for an amusing turn of events.

As does what follows, for a while. Thanks to genial supporting performers such as Rhys Ifans (The King’s Man), Mark Lewis Jones (The Good Liar), and others, there is enough good cheer to muddle us through the sections that don’t work, including a bit of family drama over Maurice’s stepson (Jean’s firstborn). It’s not that there is inherently anything wrong with the attempt to add gravitas to comedy, but if it feels clunky while you’re doing it, perhaps best to take a different tack.

Sally Hawkins in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPEN ©Sony Pictures Classics

Rylance nails his part, though, and Hawkins adds her usual charm to the mix. Director Craig Roberts (Eternal Beauty) has by no means created a disaster, yet neither has he found exactly the right approach. This may not be an outrageously high golf score but it’s still far from par.

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), as well as a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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