Writer/director/actor Jack Eve’s last project was the Agatha Christie-like Bees Make Honey, a film which demonstrated the artist’s ambition as a storyteller. It’s big in terms of cast, costumes, and sets, not the mention the murder mystery script. In July of 2021, Eve released a much smaller project, Open, a dramedy which primarily takes place on a golf course, flashbacks and establishing shots either repeated or kept similarly minimal, in order to tell a far more personal and touching tale. Even with the scope reduced, one can see a smart mind at work, understanding the importance of momentum in either word or deed.
It’s been nearly five years since the last time Steve (Eve) set foot on a golf course. The once Open hopeful isn’t sure if he’s ready to try again when, just as he’s about to take his first swing in half a decade, he’s interrupted by a jogger, Naomi (Pippa Bennett-Warner), lost and unsure of her way. The two get to talking and, without realizing it’s happening at first, the two keep talking as Steve makes his way toward the green on each hole of the course. What is truly a happenstance occurrence is a hidden blessing for two people struggling with their respective traumas, finding an unexpected support in the other.
A film like Open might imply that the audience would need to know a thing or two about golf to either understand or invest in the story. Honestly, so much of Open reminded me of another sports film, For the Love of the Game (1999), which centered on an athlete trying to process pain on the field of competition where knowledge of the game is second to the character-driven decisions. Similar to how Sam Raimi directed that film, Eve opts to travel forward and backward in time so that audiences not only understand the stakes of what it means to play in the golf tournament known as The Open, but also why this day, on this course, means so much to Steve. Thus Open is revealed to not just be a film titled after a tournament, but a story of someone closed off from hurt slowly trying to open themselves up. Because of some smartly executed character beats and a tight runtime of roughly 71 minutes, what might seem like a drag to get to the point ends up feeling like hitting a birdie by the credits.
Much of the success of Open comes down to the chemistry between Eve and Bennett-Warner, which is abundant. The meet-cute of the characters really only works because of this, especially when the two bicker a bit about Tiger Woods and their disparate opinions about the art vs. artist. Even before Steve exits the conversation, the audience can feel their radiating energy, so it makes sense to see Naomi try to reengage with him. This chemistry matters because the two characters find themselves using Steve’s affection and connection with golf to each unveil themselves to someone else who is, essentially, a total stranger. Without that apparent chemistry, the willingness to make themselves so vulnerable would seem more than unlikely, it would be absolutely preposterous. Thankfully, this is a version of a rom-com, so we’ll allow it. (A good thing, too, because Naomi’s storyline isn’t explored as deeply as Steve’s, something which a longer runtime might provide.) Credit to Eve for at least providing dialogue that shows Steve’s empathic listening as, without it, there’s space for the audience to presume that he’s less interested in her story, shifting how the audience sees Steve into something more misogynistic or selfish. As presented, it’s Naomi who deflects her truth to learn more about Steve. Bennett-Warner’s charm makes that last bit forgivable, even as it might’ve made the film feel more like a two-hander, than more focused on Steve’s journey.
What remains as it relates to the strength of the narrative comes from Oliver Johnstone who plays Steve’s brother Frank in the flashbacks. If we’re to believe in who Steve is now, to understand where he came from and the struggle he seeks to overcome, we need to become invested in the before. Johnstone’s performance does exactly this. His performance also provides the necessary narrative weight to make Steve’s internal processing feel external. He, in concert with Bennett-Warner, make the final scene of the film pack a wallop to those audience members who buy-in to the premise.
Not all is well and calm on the green, however. There are moments in which the editing by Eve is entirely disorienting, which is odd to say about a scene that’s a straight-forward walk-and-talk. How can that be dizzying? The snappy dialogue allows the audience to believe in the repertoire and eventual attraction between Naomi and Steve, however, the shots in one particular walk-and-talk are over-the-shoulder, the edits jumping from Eve to Bennett-Warner as their character responds to the other. Though the energy and chemistry is there, the frequent and fast cuts to jump back and forth as they chat makes one feel a little vertiginous. Thankfully it’s not a technique used in the greater portion of the film, opting for either longer stretches of dialogue between characters or shooting them both in frame. Another issue comes in the form of the presentation of time as related to the lighting being captured on camera. Shooting outside is notoriously hard and continuity can be difficult to achieve. Anyone who knows anything about film knows this and Eve’s film is entirely set outside, save for the interview portion spread throughout the film. The reason why this is brought up is that, based on the angle of some camera shots versus others, it’s hard to tell if Steve is playing a round of golf early in the day, in the afternoon, or late in the day. Particularly when the camera is facing the sun and therefore the characters are heavy with shadow in one scene and are brightly light in another, one can’t grasp the continuity of the day for the characters.
It really doesn’t matter if you know the difference between a hazard, a par, or a wood as it relates to golf. It doesn’t matter either if you care to know any of these things. Using Naomi, Eve is able to easily set the stage for audiences in a way that never feels expository, rather it’s done as a means of furthering what the audience learns about Steve and Naomi. Through these conversations, we are able to learn what she’s capable of (a significant thing given what’s behind her) as well as who Steve is (as a person tends to be reflected in the way they approach competition). It’s one of many small and natural techniques Eve utilizes within Open that make the intimate storyline come across as heavily weighted. Most films like Open would proclaim victory in qualifying to compete in the championship, but a creative like Eve finds victory in discovering the strength within one’s self to carry on post-tragedy and trauma. There’s a beauty and sweetness to this, a poignant recognition that not all victories are grand, some are just in the showing up and trying.
Take a deep breath. Check the wind. Review the math. Line up your shot and remain open.
Available on Prime Video in the U.S.A., U.K., Germany, and Japan beginning July 15th, 2021.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.