Golf, like many sports, have rules both inside and outside the ones that are in writing. The latter set of rules exist to gatekeep people from playing those sports. A few people are oblivious to these rules, like Craig Roberts’ The Phantom of the Open‘s protagonist Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance). In fairness, Flitcroft followed the rules at first. He did his time working an English shipyard to support his three sons. The film portrays his tough life with the occasional dream sequence that is just the right kind of cute..
Now that those sons already have their careers, Maurice’s wife Jean (Sally Hawkins) tells him, lovingly, that it’s time for him to find something for himself. After a late night of watching golf, Flitcroft has the idea of competing in the British Open. He does so without prior experience in playing the sport. The film follows his embarrassing but endearing journey towards becoming a professional golf player. I write embarrassing because he’s neither rich nor good, both qualities important to the people running the Open.
The Phantom of the Open‘s biggest conflict is not between Flitcroft and Jean – the fact that she’s too supportive feels like a flaw. It’s not between Flitcroft and the man (Rhys Ifans) gatekeeping him from entering subsequent Opens after his disastrous first year. It’s actually between him and his stepson Mike (Jake Davies) and both, interestingly enough, are mirror images of each other. Roberts and writer Simon Farnaby compare both characters with subtlety.
Flitcroft tries to jumpstart his way into a rich man’s game while Mike wants to do that more conventionally, as a manager in the shipyard instead of being one of its lower rung workers. Mike is more aware of what’s in between the lines of the rulebook of life. The one that he brings up specifically is the one where people don’t normally change careers in the middle of their lives. It’s equally baffling when people in real life do it, which Flitcroft is and does.
I don’t necessarily agree with what a few critics wrote about Open, specifically that Flitcroft’s motivations are vague. Although people like him are rare it’s pretty easy to understand someone who insists on a yes when society tells him no. Maybe in looking at that conflict in a different way is when its flaws do come out. The world tells him no so someone has to tell him yes. But the fact that Jean does it all the time makes it seem like she’s not a real character. What does she want to do after raising three kids?
The sound quality can also be better. I am usually good in catching regional accents except here, when the music is louder than the dialogue. The film’s third act is both its craziest in some scenes and one where viewers can zone out in others. It starts becoming more interesting again when Jean and and two other sons (Christian and Jonah Lees) literally talk him out of a ledge. But it’s good that they did talk him out of that ledge. It’s always good to see someone persevere and do it the way he does.
The Phantom of the Open opens on Friday in Toronto and next week in other Canadian cities.