I’m going to be honest here, I really don’t know much about soccer. It seems to be getting more and more popular each day in America, yet us Yankee bastards still don’t seem to enjoy it as much as the rest of the world does. So knowing that, I was feeling pretty hesitant to watch a biopic about a soccer coach from the 70’s I knew nothing about. The first thing that drew me to this film was the well-put-together cast of such British greats as Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent, Colm Meaney and Wormtail himself, Timothy Spall as Brian Clough’s sidekick Peter Taylor. But, what I came to realize is that this film has so much more to offer than just a great cast. Ultimately, this movie showed me that you can get behind an anti-hero entirely and that the Brits are always finding new ways to be more humorous than us Americans.
The film weaves two stories into one succinct film quite seamlessly. One is of Brian Clough (Sheen) taking the mantle as manager of Leeds United after Don Revie had held the position for over almost a decade. The conflict here being that the Leeds team sees Clough as an outsider and they do all they can to foil him from greatness. The second story follows Clough a few years prior as he and his assistant Peter Taylor (Spall) struggle at the bottom of the third division. I like both of these stories because we get to see Clough ascend into power and what he is capable of doing to obtain whatever he wants.
It’s so much fun just to watch Michael Sheen play such a bullheaded and lovable douche bag. I don’t think that anyone else could have played this role. Clough does things like going over the board of directors’ heads and buys players they don’t exactly have money for because he thinks they will generate more wins. The team itself was also very fascinating to watch. Sheen, along with the rest of the cast is very enjoyable to observe. Now that I’ve gotten the acting and story out of the way, I want to talk about the visual components and direction of this film.
Visually I think Ben Smithard was successful in making both the games themselves and normal dialogue scenes look fantastic. I feel like sports films have been stale as of recent. Yet I applaud Smithard for making the matches look extremely gritty and realistic. So realistic I would cringe every time a Leeds player would commit a red card worthy foul. I’m also a sucker for well done blocking of actors and shot composition and a lot of that I may have to give the credit to the director.
Tom Hooper isn’t a known name over here in America yet his last film, Longford, played Sundance in ’06 and he directed a bulk of HBO’s mini John Adams. He shows with this film that he knows how to direct actors quite well; otherwise I don’t think I would have liked the asshole Clough as much as I did. So I think it’s safe to say that this guy will keep making a name for himself. That said I would love to see him make a non-biopic. As I’ve previously stated, I liked this movie. But I didn’t completely love it like I know it wanted me to. So without further adieu I’ll fill ya in on my few problems I had with this movie.
My first issue was that Sheen was so good at playing a likeable asshole that I actually didn’t feel bad for him because I knew he would save only himself with just another feat of douchebaggery. I mean there were some moments where we got to see Clough be vulnerable when it came to trying to tame the wild Leeds Players. But it seems like that wasn’t the focus of the film since gears quickly shift to Clough trying to win back Taylor. Which brings me to my other only complaint: the ending.
Upon getting fired and seeing what happened to divide Clough and Taylor I felt like the ending was extremely forced. I don’t know if Taylor really said the line “take me back babe” but the last scene between the two men treads between bro-mance and something much more different. Because of the back-story I am aware that Taylor and Clough are extremely good friends and that the choice Clough made strained that friendship. Yet I felt like Clough groveling on the ground in front of Taylor was a little much. Then again, I didn’t know a thing about these people before seeing this biopic so maybe I don’t know but the tone of this particular scene was way over the top in correlation to the rest of the film. Which is sad because I really did enjoy this movie but the focus of the ending made me question the entire rest of the movie. I felt like there was so much emphasis on Clough attempting to win over the unruly Leeds players so when it came that the film’s resolution didn’t focus on that, I felt let down.
However, that said, if the film focused on Clough breaking the team in there is a possibility the movie would’ve gone the typical under dog sports story. And from what I’ve read after seeing this movie it also wouldn’t be historically accurate so there’s that. Yet I still can’t help but feel that this movie sold itself short. It was so close to winning me over completely.
I don’t think this movie will finally put us on par with the rest of the world in it comes to loving and knowing about the history of soccer. But I do believe that this is a funny well done movie. Before films like this and Frost/Nixon, I really only knew of Michael Sheen for playing Tony Blair and Lucian. Now though I really look forward to seeing him in Tron Legacy and maybe I’ll even check him out in his next type-casted role as Volturi leader Aro in that damn New Moon movie coming out.
My problems with this film aside, I think it’s still worth a watch. So go seek it out indie/foreign film supporters and soccer enthusiasts. Oh and don’t worry though if you don’t know anything about soccer, this film is sharp and funny enough to keep just about anyone entertained.