Review by Sean Boelman
There are some films that, when you see them, it’s easy to tell that audiences are going to fall head-over-heels for it. Based on Humberto G. Garcia’s book Mustang Miracle, The Long Game is a safe and by-the-numbers sports movie, but it’s hard to deny the ineffable charm of Julio Quintana’s movie.
The film follows an educator who helps lead a group of teenage Mexican-American caddies to start their own competitive golf team. It’s the type of uplifting, agreeable underdog story that makes it a safe bet to be a crowd-pleaser, even if it sticks to all of the familiar and expected beats of the genre.
In that way, the movie succeeds at delivering an experience that is consistently fun and engaging. The comedic beats are able to get a chuckle out of viewers, and the dramatic beats — while occasionally contrived — almost always resonate. If there is one word that perfectly encapsulates the film, it’s “wholesome.”
Director Julio Quintana does an excellent job of shooting the golf sequences in a way that is entertaining. Golf is one of the hardest sports to capture interestingly on film (just think of the many jokes that have been made about how boring it is to watch golf), but Quintana manages to film and edit these scenes in a way that gives them legitimate stakes.
The movie is certainly on-the-nose with its commentary on racism and xenophobia, but this conversation is still very relevant today even though the story happened over 70 years ago. It helps that the film is made in a way that is quite accessible to mainstream (especially white) audiences, as it could be an effective conversation starter to open the eyes of viewers who might not otherwise engage with this topic.
The Long Game boasts a pretty strong ensemble, led by Jay Hernandez, who gives a performance that is unexpectedly good. He hasn’t really done anything in the past that implied he has the capacity to give a strong dramatic turn like this, but he knocks it out of the park. There is also a star-studded supporting cast, including Dennis Quaid, Oscar Nuñez, and Cheech Marin — who are all good, but not given much to do.
That being said, some of the most impressive performances in the cast come not from the A-list stars, but the young actors who play the golf team. Julian Works is the biggest standout, giving a performance as the leader of the group that has much more subtlety than one would expect from a younger actor like him.
The Long Game is a conventional and occasionally cheesy movie, but its heartwarming story is told well enough that it manages to be an effective crowd-pleaser. Its infectious charm will ensure that audiences leave the film feeling moved and inspired.
The Long Game is screening at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 10-18 in Austin, TX.