There has yet to be a really good movie made out of possibly the greatest and most universally played sport in the world today... football (soccer). There's been any number of great boxing movies, a couple of good baseball one's even the American style of football has had some good flicks. But what the Brits call football, not so much. Sure the imagery of seeing Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone play football alongside the World Cup Winners of Pele, Bobby Moore and Ossie Ardiles whilst going toe to toe with the Nazi's in The Great Escape rip-off - Escape to Victory, was extremely fun and actually quite breathtaking but following the football aspect itself was hard to follow and badly shot.
Similarly, the 2005 movie Goal about MY team, my Newcastle United... clearly the football was secondary to the story of a guy wanting to prove himself in a foreign land at his craft and to his parents. It wasn't really about football at all, you could change the sport and it would still work just the same. There was no great passion for the sport there, it felt like a commercial film that was riding on the coat tails of English football. Though I will admit seeing a movie about MY team, was fun. I haven't seen the sequel.
Bend it Like Beckham, Kicking and Screaming - studio tat. When Saturday Comes and Fever Pitch most definitely captured the heart of loving the sport but weren't quite capable of creating an interesting story to get hooked onto off the field. But having just completed reading David Peace's extraordinarily gripping book The Damned United, if next year's film adaptation doesn't become the greatest movie ever made about football then it will be a huge travesty. Brian Clough, the real life protagonist of The Damned United (which is told almost like a diary, or a secret passage into the mind of the eccentric sporting figure) was a foul mouthed, egotistical but at the same time highly respectful and successful dictator of a football manager. The book which is as factual as any of it's kind that followers the life of a football personality follows Brian Clough's tremultuous 44 days (7 weeks) day reign as the manager of then League champions Leeds United, a team he often voiced his hatred for and only a few years earlier had been his bitter rivals when he was manager of Derby County. In fact Leeds were the most hated team in the country during the mid 70's. Bremner, Hunter, Lorimer, Jordan, Giles... these were the figureheads that were birth the nickname "Dirty Leeds" which has stuck ever since. They played a hard nosed game, the strongest and meanest players.. and it worked for them. But not for Cloughie who often voiced his dislike for their brutal nature of play. Cloughie would replace Don Revie at Leeds. The fascinating portion of the book is seeing Cloughie in charge of the Leeds players that he hates, frequently calling them "fucking bastards, the lot of them!". He hates the town, the players don't want him as their manager, the stadium staff and the coaches all want him gone. Cloughie tries to change Leeds' way, to bring an elegance and "win things fairly". Upon his first meeting with the players, the league champions of England he said...
"As far as I'm concerned you can throw all those medals you've won in the bin, because you won them all by cheating"
Clough didn't just want the best team in the land by results but the best team in the land because of the way they play, their style and how hard they work. The entertainment value they bring to whoever watches their games. It's a little like Maximus in Gladiator, the mob need to be entertained and Cloughie wanted them to love him for it. What the book does really well is create the atmosphere of a time in football when it wasn't their sex lives or night's out that were making the headlines, but the great rivalries, the great football and the passion that was shown on the pitch. David Peace gets deep into the heart of Clough, you can feel his obsession with drink, his problems with social interaction and his deepest fears of not achieving everything he wants in life and not having full control. Clough was a deeply complex man and the book, as I hope the film will depict this. The book knows that the most interesting aspect of the sport is not exactly what happens on the pitch but what the psyche of the figures involved were feeling. Now when handling biopics, casting is usually the key and they couldn't have done this project without the chameleon Michael Sheen, I'm certain of that. They just couldn't do it. Sheen has this marvelously amazing gift of being able to transform himself completely into whoever he plays, it's part impression and it's part incredible physical acting.
He was the best part of The Queen, easily the one who should have won the Academy Award recognition and not Helen Mirren and from the looks of things he has done it again as David Frost in the upcoming Frost/Nixon The BBC recently got chance to cover some filming of the upcoming movie, and wow... Sheen just transforms himself again... Superb character actor Colin Meamey (Star Trek: The Next Generation , Layer Cake) plays Don Revie, again perfect casting because he already looks and sounds like the former Leeds United and England manager, but it's also the kind of part he will just own. Revie was a win by all costs man, and he usually did just that... Jim Broadbent has made a career out of authorative figures and he will do it again as Sam Longson, the chairman of Derby County who wants the big ego of Clough out of his club, and Timothy Spall in when I was reading the book sounded like "Best Supporting Oscar" material part, plays Cloughie's right hand man and only friend Peter Taylor. Of course, the only sad thing about the movie is that Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Grifters) was unable to adapt it. Originally, a film adaptation of Peace's book had been his idea and as soon as he read the book he sent it to The Queen writer Peter Morgan and urged him to write the screenplay, which he did but Frears wasn't logisitically sure of how the movie would work. His problem undoubtedly to do with the amount of cross cutting that takes place within the novel as it divides it's narrative between the time of Clough's reign at Leeds United and the events of Derby. Instead of Frears, behind the camera is Tom Hooper, a British t.v. director who has the mega flop of the Hilary Swank/Chiwetel Ejiofor thriller Red Dust on his CV. Obviously he ain't as cultured at movie making as Frears but we wish him the best of luck with this one. He really couldn't have better material to make a name for himself. The film will be out sometime next year.