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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Tin Cup (1996)



Reviews and Comments

The "sports movie" is one of the most difficult genres to make a creative film in, because the available plot choices are rigidly narrow. The main character is either an enthusiastic youth who aspires to be the greatest player at whatever sport the movie is about, or the seasoned, semi-retired pro who may or may not have what it takes to match the glory days of his youth. The climax of the film pretty much has to be a championship game of some sort, and it is either won or lost.

And of all sports to film, golf seems the least cinematic of them all. Televised golf is notorious for being a bore to all except those actively interested in the sport.

It is thus a minor miracle that Tin Cup is an excellent film. And it's not hard to see why. As with any genre, the movie is made by its characters, and boy does this movie feature some fascinating characters. Kevin Costner, in rare form, creates a vivid, fleshed character Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy, a curious blend of both the sports movie hero types. But even more fascinating and more original is Rene Russo's Molly Griswold character. I have never seen a character like hers on the screen. It was riveting. Her opening scenes don't belie that -- she makes her entrance as the "modern woman" stereotype, making the men look foolish before her quick wisdom and cool candor. But then it becomes apparent that she's a real person with genuine emotions -- aspirations, hopes, fears, loves -- and the type of alluring foibles and failings that make one human.

So many movie characters are wiser about life and death (or, more appropriately, appear to be) than real people are. In moments of calamity, they spew words of comfort and wisdom at just the right moments, and their impact is always penetrating. When a movie character is confused about something, it's about something everyone in the audience sees through. We're told the character is confused, and we believe it or don't, but either way, the "right path" is always clear to us. In Tin Cup, the confusions of the main characters are genuine. The answers aren't all obvious. And they deal with these confusions in ways movies rarely allow their characters to. As I said before, the characters are enthralling. I haven't even mentioned their stunningly well written dialogue, easily the high point of the film.

Nor have I said a word about golf. That's a good sign. The best genre films are about the characters, not the genre. Golf, here, is a motivator, an outlet, a catalyst -- not what holds the movie together. Yet the golf here is fun in its own right, and I'm not even a golfer. I loved the way Costner's character handles the game. I like how he kids with his friends about the odd bad swing. I like how he knows where the ball is going to land before it does. I like how the game represents the sum total of everything else in his life and how he kids even that.

Tin Cup is a must for golf enthusiasts. It's a must for sports enthusiasts in general, and if you're interested in none of these things, you still won't go wrong with it.