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long-game.jpg

'The Long Game' Is a Predictable Feel-Good True Story About Golf and Racism

By Dustin Rowles | Film | March 17, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | March 17, 2023 |


long-game.jpg

Set in 1957, The Long Game tells the true story of five Mexican-American caddies — not allowed to play on the same prestigious Del Rio golf course upon which they worked — who came together to form a high-school golf team that took on wealthy all-white teams in that year’s Texas State High School Golf Championship.

The film from director Julio Quintana (Netflix’s Blue Miracle) stars Jay Hernandez as JB Peña, Del Rio’s incoming school superintendent, who jokes to his wife that he doesn’t love golf more than her; he loves them equally. His dream is to become a member of the Del Rio Country Club, a dream that is quickly dashed because he is not white, despite being vouched for by a golf pro and army buddy, Frank Mitchell (Dennis Quaid).

(I joked going into the movie that I only watched to find out if Quaid is a racist or a white savior. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he is neither.)

After being rejected, Peña’s misery is compounded when a teenager, Joe (Julian Works) smashes a golf ball through his window. Rather than punish Joe and his friends (who are all students in Peña’s school), he recruits them to form a golf team. Peña reasons that if he can’t get into the club, maybe he can at least earn the respect of the white men who are members. (Spoiler Alert: That rarely works). The caddies — who landscaped their own hole and played it from 18 different angles — also manage to sneak into the country club to play golf at night, they get supplies from the groundskeeper (Cheech Marin), and a hand from assistant coach Frank Mitchell, who knows his role: A white guy who can get them into tournaments.

The movie unfolds in a predictable fashion — there are setbacks, training montages, a romantic subplot, racists, minor victories, more racists, and major victories — but that’s not a knock against it. It’s well-shot, even if it often looks like a faith-based ad for 1950s Texas with its waving flags and lush golf courses (Colombia plays Texas, for the most part). It’s also well-acted by Hernandez, Quaid, and Works; Oscar Nuñez and Cheech Marin provide some comic relief; and Brett Cullen and a handful of character actors are serviceable as racists. There are corny speeches, swelling music, and occasionally some cringey writing, but it all feels like a hokey-but-inspiring sports film for the entire family, the kind of movie that will play well on, I’m assuming, a streamer like Netflix. I doubt it has bigger ambitions than that, and that is fine: For those who like treacly, paint-by-number underdog sports films, The Long Game will scratch that itch.

The Long Game premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival.