The sports drama has been done to death. There’s typically an underdog who faces various obstacles on their athletic journey, usually with a social message, ending in an emotional climax that teaches both the hero and the audience a lesson. It’s usually based on a true story (Remember the Titans, 2000) to really sell the emotional stakes, but not always (Rocky, 1976). The genre has produced critically acclaimed films and duds alike, but most are usually met with audience success: people just love a sports movie. You’re usually guaranteed to feel some kind of triumph, joy, and catharsis, and frequently be moved to tears.
The Long Game, premiering at SXSW and directed by local Austinite Julio Quintana (a disciple of Terrence Malick), joins this cadre. It’s a Texan story, and a true one at that. It takes place in a border town in the 1950s, following a group of Mexican-American teens who love golf but face racism while breaking barriers in their pursuit of the game.
…stop me if this sounds familiar. Familiarity isn’t always a negative though; the sports drama is successful for a reason, and while formulaic, The Long Game elicits the same emotions (even the tears).
The film stars Jay Hernandez, who hasn’t fully broken out but is solid here. He’s joined by an always reliable Dennis Quaid, a scene stealing Cheech Marin, a group of young actors who all conduct themselves with aplomb (with Julian Works leading the emotional core), and a generally well rounded out cast.
Julio Quintana shoots the otherwise traditional movie with a unique perspective, choosing a Malick-ian camera that frequently feels unmotivated and disjointed from the story. Other than that, everything works together to create a cohesive, moving look at some boundary pushing kids.
I especially loved when the movie focuses in on themes not as often explored in Hollywood. The kids share a difficult part of what the immigrant experience can entail: having your feet in two worlds but feeling a part of neither. Quintana blessedly delves into these themes with action rather than monologues, resulting in engaging scenes like a cross-border adventure.
The Long Game works as intended and will make many audience members cry even though you can see each story beat coming. But if the story is good, who cares? We rewatch movies that touch us even when we know exactly what happens. It’s a good story well told, and the film made this particular Texan-Mexican-American proud.