Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game is as fresh and confident a film as you will see. With bags of charm throughout, there is so much to love in Austin and Meredith Braggs directorial feature debut that you have a massive smile planted on your face.
An unsettled writer with a fantastic moustache, Roger Sharpe, finds solace and confidence in one thing he has mastered: pinball. When a police raid destroys the only machines he can find in 1970s New York City, he learns the game is illegal. Roger reluctantly joins forces with the Music and Amusement Association to overturn the ban while falling in love with Ellen, an artist and single mother. Roger’s path to save pinball ultimately rescues him. Roger learns what it means to take a chance—and that commitment is the most rewarding gamble of all.
Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game immediately sweeps the rug from underneath your feet by luring you in with the idea that the film will be a run-of-the-mill documentary/bio. Then suddenly, our narrator and present-day protagonist literally walks us through his earlier life. This is quite the bold move to take and one that undeniably pays off.
There are some decisions with the camera that feel so simple yet so inspired. Just with that opening alone, as we watch young Roger play pinball at college, the camera moves left to right, each time doing little time jumps as the opening credits roll on the screen. Such a simple idea, perfectly executed while giving us something welcomingly fresh. Director of Photography Jon Keng and the Bragg brothers work terrifically well together here to give us a film that is just enough uniqueness to keep the story going.
The writing is also on top form here, and keeping it as light and quick-paced as Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game allows for us to forgive the more standard harmless tropes. Yet, little moments like when Roger meets Chairman Warner and just as Warner is about to go on a cussing tirade, we cut back to older Roger, who asks what rating the documentary will be in and tells us that he will save his one curse word for later on. It’s unexpected and honest joy. So as the film veers into a comedy mockumentary biography, it becomes almost faultless.
While Mike Faist’s atrociously comical fake moustache almost takes you out of the film, his performance is the one that drives it. His likeable and honest portrayal of Sharpe he feels like a real everyday person, and his chemistry with Crystal Reed gives us a strong performance as Ellen. Her role is a lot harder to get right in a film like this, one that could easily become its own little footnote as we focus on Faist. The duo complement each other tremendously well, and Reed makes sure that her character is more than memorable, with multiple great moments spread throughout.
Sure, moments are wrapped up in a bow a little too neatly, but this is a 95-minute film that isn’t here to waste your time, and it knows exactly when to bring the laughs and when to bring a little emotion to proceedings. Most importantly, it knows when to out, so as the film wraps up its loose ends, you don’t mind one bit. The Bragg brothers have earned it with their excellent film.
As mentioned, there are moments in Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game that just lights up your face with joy. Its light and freshness vibrates through the screen at all times what comes through most though, is the love for the subject matter. Whether that is the angles within a pinball machine following that little silver shape roll around or the enthusiasm from all involved. We as an audience may be getting joy from the film, but there was a clear joy in the production giving us it too.
Like Sharpe, the Braggs took a shot with this concept for their film and boy, did that risk pay off. You won’t regret watching Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game one iota as it is an absolute delight of a film.
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