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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

THE DAMNED UNITED (2009)

This bio-pic about a talented British soccer coach who flops when he moves up too quickly is best defined by what’s not in Peter Morgan’s wonderfully inventive script. It’s not about coming from behind to win the big game. It’s not about life being just like sports. It’s not, thank God, about team spirit. In fact, it’s not really about soccer. Nor is it particularly designed to appeal to soccer fans. (Just who the producers hoped their Stateside audience might be is a mystery.) But don’t let this keep you off this smashing character study of class, friendship & loyalty, of learning about strength via failure, and by a humbling acceptance of life’s quixotic journey. The film is largely a two-hander for Michael Sheen, as the nakedly ambitious coach with an immutable chip on his shoulder, and Timothy Spall, as his indispensable, taken-for-granted second. Physically, they could pass for a Laurel & Hardy act, but they’re more like James Cagney & Frank McHugh in an old, insanely entertaining Warner Bros. vehicle. And with supporting roles taken by Colm Meany, Jim Broadbent & Henry Goodman, plus Tom Hooper just off of helming HBO’s John Adams series, you know you’re in good hands. Errr . . . feet. Soccer, you know.

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