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The Long Game

Rating: PG

Genre: Biography/History, Drama, Sports

Directed by: Julio Quintana

Written by: Paco Farias, Humberto G. Garcia, and Jennifer C. Stetson Based on a novel by Julio Quintana

Release Date Theater: April 12, 2024

Cast: Jay Hernandez as J.B. Peña; Julian Works as Joe Treviño; Dennis Quaid as Frank Mitchell; Jaina Lee Ortiz as Lucy Peña; Brett Cullen as Judge Milton Cox; Paulina Chávez as Daniela Torres; Gregory Diaz IV as Gene Vasquez; Miguel Angel Garcia as Felipe Romero; Christian Gallegos as Mario Lomas; José Julián as Lupe Felan; Oscar Nuñez as Principal Guerra; Cheech Marin as Pollo; Gillian Vigman as Gayle Baker; Richard Robichaux as Don Glenn; Kimmy Gonzales as Adelio Treviño; Michael Southworth as Tim Cox

Review Courtesy: PluggedIn
Reviewer: Kennedy Unthank

As J.B. Peña drives to the Del Rio Country Club in 1956 to request a membership, a golf ball crashes through his car window and leaves blood dripping down his forehead.

J.B. only catches a glimpse of the boys responsible before they run out of sight. And what’s more, the trip itself was for nothing: The club denies J.B.’s request, claiming that its white members might not be comfortable playing golf alongside a Hispanic man.

It’s a pretty bad day for J.B. But there’s always tomorrow, where he’s introduced as the new superintendent over San Felipe School District—the very same school district where the five boys responsible for smashing his car window go tp high school. And soon, those five Hispanic boys are sitting in the principal’s office, wondering how they’re going to be punished.

Turns out, it hadn’t been an accident. The boys are caddies at the all-white Del Rio’s golf course, and they’ve constructed a crude course for their own enjoyment. The group’s best player, Joe, had intentionally targeted J.B.’s moving car to win a bet. And though J.B. knows he should be mad, as an avid golfer himself, he can’t help but be impressed with the shot.

“How would you boys like to be the first members of the San Felipe High School golf team?” J.B. asks.

At first, they laugh at his offer. But then J.B. reminds them of Del Rio: How the club discriminates against Hispanic people; how the high school state championships are always played on the Del Rio course; how this could be their chance to finally prove that they’re just as good as the people who look down on them.

And well…suddenly the offer starts to sound a lot more appealing.

At first, J.B.’s decision to coach the boys comes off a bit self-serving—a way to potentially stick it to the country club that rejected him. But it quickly becomes clear that the sentiment is just as much the team’s as it is J.B.’s. They, like J.B., have often been discriminated against because of their ethnic background, and they often have to do extra work just to receive the same rewards as others because of it. With that in mind, the opportunity to prove themselves and debunk some prejudicial attitudes becomes a motivation for the whole team.

J.B. knows better than his students the hypocrisy they fight against. After all, he fought in World War II and comes home to a United States flag mounted at his door, but he’s still treated by some as if he’s not an American. Still, J.B. keeps his composure.

But the team’s star golfer, Joe, takes a different approach. He’s prone to fits of anger whenever he recognizes that he’s being treated differently. On occasion, it causes him to engage in fights—and in one instance, he breaks a diner’s windows. But J.B. warns him that though his anger is justified, acting out violently will only cause people to treat them worse. Instead, they should act by doing good and enduring the hardship.

And as the team begins to get a little recognition, their story inspires others who once believed that they should give up on their dreams. For instance, Joe’s romantic interest, Daniela, wonders if she might be able to pursue becoming an author. If a Hispanic team can play in golf tournaments, then she can at least try to become a writer.

Characters grapple on the balance between following the rules and doing what is morally right.

J.B.’s military buddy and fellow golfer, Frank, is a white man who J.B. encourages to become the team’s head coach (with J.B. assisting). Frank comes around to coaching the kids when he recognizes their passion for the sport, and he continuously advocates for the boys against the prejudices of other white people.

We see a cross hanging on the wall of J.B.’s home. J.B.’s wife, Lucy, reveals that she’s prayed for a long time that she and J.B. would conceive.

J.B. and Lucy share a kiss. Joe and Daniela kiss, too. Joe is seen shirtless.

Joe fights a group of boys, trading punches with them. He is thrown through a picket fence, and he picks up a piece of the wood to swing at his attackers. We later see Joe get into a couple other scuffles with racists.

Joe hits a golf ball through J.B.’s car window, causing J.B. to end up with a bloody cut on his forehead. Later, Joe hits more golf balls through a diner window.

Joe’s father attempts to burn Joe’s golf clubs. A man threatens to hit some people with a bat.

We hear the s-word four times. Other crudities, such as “a–,” “d–n,” “h—” and “b–tard” are occasionally used. God’s name is used in vain twice, and we likewise hear Jesus’ name taken in vain twice, too. The derogatory slur “wetback” is used a few times. A couple crudities in Spanish are thrown around, too. Someone tells another person to “grow a pair.”

People drink beer, and one man is visibly intoxicated. One man drinks from a flask. The team attempt to purchase tequila.

Racism is a central obstacle for the team. We hear and see many instances in which people treat J.B. and the team differently because of their skin color—whether overtly, like when they’re denied food at a diner, or in more subtle ways, like when someone assumes the team are caddies rather than players. One sign at a gas station even reads, “No dogs, no Mexicans.”

Joe urinates on someone’s car after they steal his friend’s tip.

Various sources claim that the average game of golf takes around four hours to play, start to finish. But in The Long Game—based on a true story—J.B. teaches five Hispanic high school golfers that their game will take a lot longer to finish—one that continues even after they step off the green.

Unlike the other teams competing for high school glory in 1956, the San Felipe High School golf team must prove that it deserves to be competing with the rest of them. Because of their Hispanic heritage, everyone discounts them. It was a miracle that they even got to play in a single tournament—and with all eyes on them, they have to play and act their best—in both the games of golf and life—lest they give anyone a reason to kick them out of the sport for good.

The Long Game stands as an inspiring story, and I’d even say it succeeds in the sports genre—one which can often feel overloaded with inspiring stories. Perhaps what helps the movie is that it’s positive messages often extend beyond the realm of sports.

Still, the film’s PG rating may belie its biggest content concern—the language, which occasionally pushes the boundary for a PG-13 rating.

But if you can look past the language, The Long Game comes out above average...or should I say under par?

Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics. He thinks the ending of Lost “wasn’t that bad.”